Stephanie Valentine / Staff Writer
Due to the COVID-19, homelessness has increased in Miami-Dade County. FIU students are distributing medical kits, water, and food supplies to local organizations to alleviate the hardships homeless communities are facing in South Florida.
Bubble City is a student-led organization at FIU working to establish a safe shelter for unaccompanied youth experiencing chronic homelessness in Miami-Dade County.
Chronic homelessness refers to the experience of being unhoused for at least a year — or repeatedly — while struggling with a disabling condition such as a serious mental illness, substance use disorder, or physical disability.
Scarcity of resources to protect the unhoused community during the pandemic caught the attention of Emelie Jimenez, an FIU Honors junior studying political science with a certificate in human rights.
Florida’s State Moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures, which temporarily prevented landlords from taking their tenants to eviction court during the pandemic, expired this September. Many people found themselves living on the streets for the first time and the sudden influx of unhoused people put a lot of stress on shelters.
“I started to realize the people that were already homeless were probably not receiving the adequate care and resources that they need considering the shelters are becoming more overcrowded,” said Jimenez.
Doing volunteer work to give back during the pandemic inspired Jimenez to become a community organizer upon transferring to FIU Honors College from Miami-Dade College.
“I’ve been doing the soup kitchen and I would be able to have personal connections with the women who would go to get food,” said Jimenez. “It opened my eyes to the people that lived in the shelters because it’s not just women it’s their children as well.”
Jimenez also volunteered at Lotus House Miami, a shelter committed to ending child and family homelessness, and with Miami-Dade Disaster Relief to provide temporary shelter for unhoused individuals in vacant hotel rooms.
After a few months of attending FIU, she decided to create her own organization to create a Bubble City that shelters anyone living on the streets and provides them the tools to protect themselves from contracting the virus.
Jennifer Betancourt is an FIU sophomore studying psychology with a minor in art and has just been appointed vice president of the Bubble City Community Project after stepping down as treasurer.
Just a few months ago Betancourt discovered the organization through a social media advertisement and immediately applied. Now she is planning a busy agenda of fundraisers and volunteer events for the coming year.
Betancourt said the economic consequences of the pandemic drew her attention to the issue of homelessness in Miami.
“Specifically because of the pandemic there are huge amounts of new people experiencing homelessness for the first time because of layoffs,” Betancourt explained.
FIU awarded the organization a $500 grant towards a holiday hygiene kit fundraiser; however, the completion of this project is still highly reliant on community donations through a GoFundMe Campaign.
“The Christmas hygiene kits are to provide basic hygiene necessities,” Jimenez explained, saying the distribution of these kits will also serve as a point of reference in the community.
“With every kit that is distributed we’re gonna collect quantitative data and qualitative data to actually monitor how many people are on the streets, what are their basic needs, what are their concerns and daily obstacles,” Jimenez said.
In addition to keeping the unhoused safe during the pandemic, Bubble City aims to dispel myths, stereotypes, and prejudices that many people hold against them.
“People like to distance themselves from this problem, like it could never be them or that people who are homeless are some kind of other,” Betancourt explained. “But that is not the case at all.”
The project creates infographics illustrating the interconnections between homelessness and human trafficking, debunking myths about the homeless, and exposing anti-homeless regulations in Miami-Dade.
“The problem of homelessness in Miami is enormous.” said Betancourt “I think it’s really important to shift the narrative, this is an issue that could happen to anybody who is dealing with any food insecurity, job insecurity, or shelter insecurity.”
Jimenez hopes these infographics will minimize microaggressions or subtle forms of discrimination against homeless individuals that contribute to their systematic exclusion from participating in general society.
“We are strengthening our campaign to promote the BC and to bridge the gap between the housed and the houseless community to find those prejudice barriers that are restricting our understanding,” said Jimenez.
Bubble City will be officially recognized as an FIU organization as of spring 2021. To join or volunteer, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.