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North Fort Myers woman gets into state-funded trailer after weeks of struggles

Unite Florida trailer locked since the family got it, until Fox 4 got involved
State-funded trailer
Posted at 4:40 PM, Mar 02, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-03 13:26:18-05

NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. — It's been five months since Hurricane Ian hit, and a North Fort Myers family is close to getting inside their new state-funded trailer. However, it's been locked since the family got it, until Fox 4 got involved.

Sheilagh Tuttle and her family have been living in a car since the hurricane. They've also been hotel hopping, spending nearly their entire savings.

"I won't lie, I'll just sit in the car and cry," Tuttle said. "Anything with a heartbeat is in there."

That includes her husband, two dogs, and her cat. Hurricane Ian destroyed the home she was renting in North Fort Myers.

"There was mold everywhere," she said.

Tuttle was denied a FEMA trailer and applied for Unite Florida in mid-January. The state program provides travel trailers for Ian victims. After waiting for a month, she got good news.

"7:02, he was here backing that trailer in," Tuttle said.

The trailer is at an RV park in North Fort Myers, and Tuttle said workers had to come and hook up all the utilities. They did, but the lockbox was still attached.

"I am grateful, but just let me in," she said. "You can hear the A/C running, you can see the lights in it that are on."

Tuttle didn't understand the hold-up. One person told her it needed another inspection, but then she got a voicemail a week after the trailer got to the lot.

"Once we have the pole energized by the utility company, then as I mentioned before, it'll be ready for occupancy," the Unite Florida representative said in a voicemail.

The voicemail didn't provide hope, just disappointment, Tuttle said.

"It’s already approved for this area, it’s an RV park," she said.

Fox 4 went to Unite Florida, asking why it was taking so long for Tuttle to get in and what the hold-up is. The communications director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, the agency in charge of the program, said Tuttle is expected to move in on Thursday.

It was to Tuttle's surprise. They also called her after I talked to Unite Florida.

"I asked her [Unite Florida] that – that is going to happen today, right? She said, yes ma'am today," Tuttle said. "A part of me holds back. I'm waiting for the but to come, but at the same time, part of me is so happy."

Tuttle still wants to see change and says there should not be so many hoops to jump through.

"Just cut the red tape, make it seamless, it shouldn't be hard," Tuttle said.

As of Thursday afternoon, Tuttle is waiting for the inspector to come out and give her the lockbox code.

We asked Unite Florida how many trailers are in the community, and Fox 4 is still waiting to hear back.

We also checked in with FEMA, the federal agency providing several temporary housing options.

FEMA says in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, and DeSoto counties, 318 families are either in a travel trailer or mobile home. 10 moved out because their home was repaired or they relocated.

Currently, 317 hotels are paid for by FEMA, down from a peak of 1,294. FEMA is also leasing 77 apartments for families.

"FEMA is speaking directly with about 2,000 eligible households about their needs for this variety of emergency housing options," a FEMA representative told Fox 4 in a statement.