Evacuating isn't so easy for low-income residents

Charleston, SC is underway for a doozy- So they say. Hurricane Florence is slowly creeping her way towards the Lowcountry.

For able-bodied and financially secure individuals, evacuating isn’t an issue; however, for less fortunate populations like the elderly, sick, and low-income residents, evacuating isn’t so simple.   

15.3% of Charleston’s population lives below the poverty line, and Charleston’s median household income is $56,827 according to Data USA.

Many residents live within the same household as their extended family or within close proximity to their extended family, residing just a matter of miles away. This creates an obstacle for low-income families because they do not have kin in a safe state that they can travel to stay with.

If family or friends are in fact located in other state, one must factor in the gas it takes to drive five, six, even 10 hours away. Low-income populations cannot afford to spend upwards a couple hundred dollars round trip on gas.

Affordable housing is another tricky hurdle. If there are no available options for residents to stay with a family member or friend, they must pay for a hotel, motel, or Airbnb. Consider how even one week at a very inexpensive motel adds up to $600-700, and that lump of money is in fact many individuals’ monthly rent.

The next complication is the expectation of feeding not only oneself, but an entire family for an extended period of time. Imagine a family of five struggling to buy groceries, living paycheck-to-paycheck, now on the road, forced to buy three meals out a day. This becomes exceptionally expensive and quite infeasible. Anyone that has been on vacation can understand how eating out for every meal becomes a costly venture.

Another issue persists in obtaining safe and reliable transportation needed for evacuation. Innumerous low-income individuals cannot safely perform a 10-hour drive in their vehicle. Let us not forget low-income persons that do not own their own car and solely rely on public transportation.

Difficulty with acquiring affordable lodging, meals, gas, and safe and reliable transportation exhibits just how problematic evacuation can be for low-income residents.

Advanced age and medical conditions are an obstacle as well. It may be unsafe to travel extended hours with elderly and sick individuals. Traveling with newborn babies can be a tumultuous impediment in attempting safe evacuation. Single mothers with newborns, who are traveling alone, will struggle to drive long hours due to the need to breastfeed an average of every one to three hours. 

Many folks do not possess the extra income needed to equip themselves with essential hurricane supplies such as, extra water, food, safety and first aid kits, and in consequence, this puts low-income individuals at much higher risks of dehydration, starvation and injury when the hurricane advances.

The majority of businesses have closed in preparation for Hurricane Florence. Residents face the loss of income for days, even weeks, until their workplaces re-open. Charleston's preeminent commerce is hospitality and tourism. Countless residents work in the food and beverage industry and financially survive solely on tips. F&B employees must face the harsh reality of not having an income for an extended period of time. To make matters worse, restaurants upon reopening are not as busy due to the fact that many people are still out of town from evacuating. This leaves empty restaurants resulting in slow nights of minuscule tips.  

Individuals with mental and physical disabilities are at an obvious disadvantage in their abilities to evacuate. For example, when disastrous and devastating Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, residents with disabilities faced horrific consequences due to lack of government planning for safe evacuation. An eye-opening documentary called “The Right to be Rescued” spearheaded by Disability Rights Washington highlights these struggles.

Before you pass judgment on someone choosing not to evacuate, recognize they may not have the same affordances as you financially or physically.