NAPLES, Fla. — When Hurricane Ian brought nearly 12 feet of storm surge in Collier County, the flood waters washed away Eddie McNulty’s life savings.
“It took all my tools, everything, clothes. I saved what I could. Vehicle gone. Pretty much knocked me out of the park,” McNulty said.
McNulty, 68, has lived in Collier County for more than four decades.
Before Ian hit, McNulty was living in a mobile home park near Marco Island.
The storm flooded his trailer.
“I’ve been through a lot of hurricanes here. Nothing as devastating as this one that brought the water in,” McNulty said.
McNulty stayed with a friend for several months.
But when he passed away, and the family sold the trailer, McNulty was forced out.
“I couldn’t do the streets. Not me. If I had to, I think it would have really changed me and put me down,” McNulty said.
Last week, McNulty took a bus to the Campbell Lodge, one of two shelters run by St. Matthew’s House in Collier County.
“It’s all new to me, this environment. I never thought I’d end up here,” McNulty said.
Once he arrived he realized he wasn’t the only senior citizen facing homelessness in Collier County.
“We actually have one person over the age of 80 who is staying in our care,” said Ben Bridges, VP of Programs at St. Matthew’s House.
According to the most recent Point In Time Count, homelessness has surged 52% in the last year.
Of the 703 people counted as homeless in Collier County, 195, or nearly 28%, were 60 and older.
Experts believe that count represents only a fraction of the real problem.
“We’ve seen our numbers increase exponentially. To the point where it’s a significant issue for our residents,” Bridges said.
Affordable housing has long been an issue in Collier County, according to Bridges.
But he says the COVID-19 pandemic, Hurricane Ian, and inflation has skyrocketed the problem.
“We can pass zoning measures to increase density. We can provide tax subsidies to attract developers to come in and build more affordable senior housing. The reality is until the community as a whole comes together to fix this problem, none of those things are gonna happen,” Bridges said.