Homestead, Florida Farm employees with out energy after Hurricane Irma in Miami

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The South Dade Center is a subsidized housing project for the vast rural labor community in Homestead, the rural town south of Miami that has been hit by hurricanes repeatedly since Andrew’s hit in 1992. Most of the area’s residents are of Mexican or Central American descent making little money in the sun-drenched fields and nurseries that feed the rest of Florida.

Now, many residents of the South Dade Center say Homestead has left them since Hurricane Irma hit them: the center flooded and lost power over the weekend, and residents and activists who spoke to the New Times say they didn’t have a single one Even seen utility company trucks exploring the neighborhood all week. Homestead operates its own power grid that is independent of Florida Power & Light. Residents and activists describe the center as a sun-kissed sauna, where it is cooler to sleep outside and be bitten by mosquitos than to stay inside.

Shortly after noon yesterday, a group of activists from the Florida Immigrant Coalition and other groups began beating Homestead officials with phone calls and social media posts, urging the city to help residents of the so-called “South Dade Labor Camps”. (Maybe change that name folks.)

The move appears to have worked: at 3:30 p.m., the site’s administrator told the New Times that the neighborhood should come back to power by Sunday evening. Hours later, around 6 p.m., Homestead updated its projections, saying the area’s electricity would likely be fully restored by tonight.

Just hours after the tweet storm started, Salma Jaramillo, a relative of someone who lives in the center, posted online that trucks finally arrived after residents said they hadn’t seen any signs of them in days.

According to Irma, migrant farm workers on the homestead are neglected until activists sound the alarmEXPAND

Courtesy Salma Jaramillo

Jaramillo’s grandfather lives on the property, but she said he left town for vacation “long before” Irma met. Yesterday she stopped at the center to make sure his apartment was okay and said she saw fallen trees still wrapped around power lines and children, not work teams, removing debris from the street.

“This community seems to have been forgotten,” Jaramillo told the New Times. “There’s still a lot of rubbish here. It’s really, really hot. The houses are made of cement blocks, so they heat up very quickly.”

According to Irma, migrant farm workers on the homestead are neglected until activists sound the alarmEXPAND

Courtesy Salma Jaramillo

She said residents she spoke to have no idea when HPS Energy, Homestead’s utility company, is planning to start repairs. She added that the city only sent garbage trucks to the center yesterday, five days after the storm.

“These people, you can only see them sweating,” she said. “You are out here in shorts. You have no choice but to stay outside because it is very hot inside. I tried to contact the main office but I was not given a straight answer.”

HPS Energy didn’t respond to a call from the New Times yesterday. But Brandy Ramirez, the Homestead Housing Authority’s manager for the site, said on the phone around 3 p.m. that HPS had promised residents that it would bring the entire city back on stream by Sunday evening. FPL gave the rest of South Florida the same amount of time.

“They posted this on their website and gave assurances that all houses within the city limits would have electricity by then,” Ramirez said yesterday. “They assured us that this would include the South Dade Center and assured us that the center is on their big list of places that need to be done.”

Meanwhile, Ramirez said, city officials plan to hold events in the coming days to reassure residents of the center that they will not be invisible.

“I’ve seen some city officials go out and reassure these families that they have not been forgotten and that power is coming soon,” Ramirez said. “Thank goodness we’re getting a lot of support from the city, the office of Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, and we’ll bring food for families, ice cream and everything.”

According to Irma, migrant farm workers on the homestead are neglected until activists sound the alarmEXPAND

Courtesy Salma Jaramillo

The Homestead Housing Authority operates four housing complexes that are subsidized for poor farm workers. One of the four is on FPL’s grid, while the rest is powered by HPS Energy.

Jonathan Fried, a workers rights activist with immigrant rights group WeCount, said over the phone that residents don’t feel as safe as the Housing Authority claims.

“The place is in a flood zone and it’s flooded, but the bigger problem is that there is no electricity,” he said. “Homestead Electric did a pretty good job in the rest of Homestead – you can see the trucks everywhere. But people can see that there is no work being done here.”

He said he spoke to a pregnant woman who said she decided to sleep outside after it got too hot to stay in her house because the windows didn’t open enough to ventilate the place . She said that two nights ago she got so many mosquito bites that she wasn’t sure where to sleep last night.

“She’s considering going to the Homestead Hospital emergency room,” Fried said.

He added that the city was holding a meeting with Homestead Vice Mayor Patricia Fairclough at 4:30 p.m. to better update residents on the state of the city’s relief efforts.

Ramirez of the housing authority said the city is doing everything possible to get the electricity back on as soon as possible, but residents said they felt confused by 3:30 p.m. yesterday.

But at 6 p.m. the City of Homestead confirmed after continued contact by local activists that help was finally coming.

“HPS Energy is currently working in the South Dade Labor Camps,” tweeted the city. “The restoration of the power supply is expected by Friday at the latest.”

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Jerry Iannelli was a former employee of the Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated from Temple University with honors. He then earned a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University.

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