Orlando's mayor says the city will soon begin distributing millions of dollars in donated funds to victims and families of those killed in the Pulse nightclub. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer spoke at the opening of the Orlando United Assistance Center, another way the county plans to help people affected by the mass shooting.
In the nearly two weeks since the attack, officials in Orlando say a team of government and non-profit social service agencies have provided help to more than 950 people representing nearly 300 families.
With help from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, visas were expedited for family members coming from other countries. Dyer said airlines have provided more than 200 free plane tickets for victims' families, including many to and from Puerto Rico. Nearly half of those killed in the Pulse shooting were Puerto Rican.
The Orlando United Assistance Center, housed in a renovated storage facility, will help families in a variety of ways, none more important than counseling.
Tara Hughes, of the American Red Cross Family Assistance Center says as the crisis subsides, the challenge for people affected by the Pulse shootings is to find a "new normal." Many in Orlando, Hughes said, "are still experiencing things like an inability to be able to sleep, possibly nightmares. They may be feeling a little bit more agitated with people they care about. ... All of that is completely predictable."
In Orlando, and other places she's worked like Sandy Hook and Boston, Hughes says it's important that those affected get enough sleep, talk with friends and family and resume routine things like shopping and going to work.
More than $15 million in financial help will be distributed to victims and families of those killed in the shooting. Some $9 million has been collected in the One Orlando Fund, a non-profit that was set up by the city and which will be administered by an 11 member board.
Five of those on the board will be appointed by the donors. Both Disney and Universal, with theme parks in Orlando, donated $1 million to the fund. The others on the board will represent the LGBTQ and Latino communities and philanthropic groups. The board is still being appointed and the city is consulting with Kenneth Feinberg, who oversaw victim compensation funds after 9/11 and the Boston Marathon bombing.
Dyer says the money will be distributed directly to victims but no timetable has yet been set. When pressed, he conceded it may be "weeks perhaps" before the money begins going out.
A second fund, organized by an LGBTQ advocacy group, Equality Florida, has raised nearly $6 million through a GoFundMe campaign. The group says it will handle the money in partnership with the National Center for Victims of Crime.
One of the biggest tasks is verifying the identities of partners and family members. That can be particularly challenging with members of the LGBTQ community. Ida Eskamani of Equality Florida says, "It's a community already marginalized and which faces unique challenges." Eskamani says Equality Florida is committed to transparency and accountability but hopes to begin distributing funds within eight weeks.
In the meantime, both One Orlando officials and Equality Florida say they're providing immediate aid to those who need emergency assistance with help from Florida's Crime Victims Compensation fund.