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Local real estate agent heads effort to house first responders

Some first responders suffered significant damage to their homes while they served the community before, during and after the storm.

September 20, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

During the hurricane, some people evacuated. Some barricaded their houses and stayed at home.

Others didn't have that choice - they had to serve the community.

Lee County's law enforcement and emergency services personnel stayed out on the road until it was unsafe to do so, and returned to duty the minute the storm ended.

Trish Hickey, a Fort Myers Beach resident and Century 21 Tri Power Realtor, spent the storm with her grandchildren and daughter in law in a shelter the Lee County Sheriff's Office had set up for its staff's families. Her son is on staff for the Sheriff's Office.

"It was a blessing. They set up shelters for the deputies and families so the police officers could go to work," Hickey said.

Some of those on the force, or in other agencies, suffered the same damages to their personal homes after Hurricane Irma hit. With no power, electricity and damaged homes, the deputies' families had to sleep in cots and on the floor in the Sheriff's Office headquarters.

"My son told me there was a lot of need," Hickey said.

She contacted the Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce, of which she was a member, asking them to send out an email blast to its members to see if any of the hoteliers or vacation rental companies had space to move these deputies' families.

The response was immediate.

Island Winds Resort and Distinctive Beach Rentals quickly got in touch with Hickey and offered up rooms.

It snowballed from there.

Island Winds, Distinctive Rentals, Wyndham Garden and Paradise Point Cottages all offered up units - and they're all free of charge to families of first responders who are working through Irma.

Dennis DuBois is the property manager at Island Winds, which suffered some of its own damages from the hurricane. One of its car ports collapsed, fortunately with nothing beneath it, and many condos' lanai screens were blown away. DuBois sent out the inquiry to his owners, as the association is 100 condos, letting them know about the community need. He wasn't sure what kind of response he would get.

"Offering up your house to a stranger is a lot," he said.

But responses came back instantly - eight owners offered up their condo units to the families in need at no charge.

"Clearly it's a worthy endeavor," DuBois said.

Amy Loughrey, co-owner of Distinctive Rentals, said her owners have housed about 15 families so far and there are still some staying on the beach as their own homes still don't have power.

She sent an email out to the owners of the properties her company manages, and within 30 minutes she was overwhelmed with responses from about 150 owners who offered up their rental spaces.

"I always knew we had a great batch of owners, but the response renewed my faith in people," Loughrey said.

A majority of the owners are non-resident and out of state; for many, their properties are second homes or investments. Sometimes, it's said that these owners don't care about the beach and it's just a property to them, she said.

"It's not true, my owners proved they care, for them to open up their homes and be a part of the community," she said. "I'm tickled pink that our owners had such an overwhelming response."

Hickey partnered with the the Lani Kai to offer housing for the out-of-state electrical companies who sent crews down to assist Florida Power and Light.

September is normally a slow month for many rentals and hotels on the beach. Housing these families in otherwise empty units was the perfect answer to the problem, Hickey said. Since she began coordinating the effort, she's reached out to agencies around the county to offer them the same temporary housing, such as the Cape Coral Fire District.

"It's been amazing," Hickey said. "I'm so proud of our community. It's great to see the outpouring of support."



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