A World War II veteran who survived the lashing of Hurricane Irma as it tore through Florida last year was confronted with another struggle this month, facing eviction for not fixing the storm damage to his home -- but the local community stepped up to help.
Lucien E. Lebrun, known as Chet, was recently served an eviction notice from his retirement community in Winter Haven, Fla. after the 96-year-old failed to make repairs to his mobile home, his friend Karen Bingham told Fox News on Tuesday.
"He's very upset that he's being treated this way," Bingham said. "He thought there was no way they would evict him because the government would step in."
Lebrun's mobile home was severely damaged by Irma's fierce winds, which lifted parts of the aluminum off the side of the structure and the roof, allowing water to get inside the home's walls.
"When he opens the front door every morning, it's wet," Bingham told Fox News. "The floor is already rotting and soft."
The 96-year-old, who is on a fixed income, applied for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to cover the cost of repairs, but Bingham, who has power of attorney for Lebrun, said his initial request was denied and they have yet to hear about an appeal.
"I would just like to do this for him, just have him happy and live in peace without being harassed."
A FEMA official told Fox News on Wednesday the agency has provided about $1 billion in grants to Florida homeowners and renters for damage and serious losses not covered by insurance related to Irma recovery, which goes towards temporary rental assistance, basic home repairs and other needs such as replacing personal property. Assistance from the agency is meant to give people help to restore their primary residence to a "habitable condition."
By law, the disaster agency cannot duplicate insurance payments or assistance provided by other agencies or programs, the official noted, but FEMA "takes all appeals for disaster assistance seriously," including from military veterans.
The agency will review an applicant's case file to determine if additional assistance is needed, and in many cases, FEMA will make referrals to charitable, voluntary, and faith-based groups, according to the official, who added that such organizations are doing "incredible work" for hurricane recovery.
For Chet, his troubles got worse last week when he received an eviction notice from the Cypress Shores retirement community, saying Lebrun had to be out by Feb. 23 after not making repairs to his home.
“When they sent me that notice, 'You got seven days to fix it,' imagine fixing all that, seven days, I can’t even stand up,” Lebrun told FOX35.
Bingham said the management company of the community told her since Lebrun owned his mobile home, he was the one solely responsible for the repairs.
"They never said 'Hey what can we do to help, maybe we can have someone on the maintenance crew help out,'" she said.
In an interview with The Ledger newspaper, Lebrun said he's lived in the community since the late 1970s, and had been in his current mobile home for five years, along with his cat named Kitty.
Lebrun told the paper he served with the U.S. Army from 1941 to 1945 during World War II.
“I spent three years in the jungle, fighting,” Lebrun said. “I never complain, but there’s not much I can do about it."
The retirement community, which is listed online as a place where "residents enjoy the best of both worlds - the privacy and quiet that you find in a single-family home plus the commitment to service found in a professionally managed community," did not respond to a phone call Tuesday by Fox News.
Bingham told Fox News the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Florida Department of Health are in favor of Lebrun entering an assisted-living facility, but Lebrun said he's managed to live fine on his own and "takes pride in his independence."
Since his troubles started, Bingham has set up a GoFundMe account to help Lebrun pay for repairs. The account had received more than $14,000 as of Wednesday. And two local businessmen stepped in Tuesday offering to purchase him a new mobile home in a nearby retirement community.
“They contacted me this morning and said that the two of them would like to purchase him a new mobile home in the Hamptons here in Auburndale,” Bingham told FOX35.
The goal now is to get Chet into a new home by the end of the week, according to Bingham, who said things are "moving along."
She also told Fox News she's been in contact with a representative from Sen. Marco Rubio's office to examine Lebrun's FEMA application.
Bingham also hopes she can use proceeds from the GoFundMe account to help Chet pay pay a years worth of lot rent and future maintenance on his home.
"I would just like to do this for him, just have him happy and live in peace without being harassed," she said.