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For some, disaster recovery could take years

For some, disaster recovery could take years

July 7th, 2019 by Joe Gamm in Local News

Sisters Cassie, foreground, and Annie Pruitt volunteer their time and services at the Seventh Day Adventist Distribution Center at Capital West Event Center. They've been involved since the beginning when donated items started coming in. Items delivered range from toothbrushes to kitchen utensils to mattresses and mirrors and much, much more. The items are repackaged for easy access when clients come in to fill out a "shopping list" of sorts.

Photo by Julie Smith /News Tribune.

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Six weeks after a tornado swept through Eldon and parts of East Jefferson City, destroying homes and businesses, people are still living in cars.

Getting them into permanent, safe housing is a goal as disaster responders begin transitioning from a short-term recovery program into a long-term effort.

Members of the United Way of Central Missouri's short-term recovery group who met Wednesday morning each know of somebody who remains without a home for any of a number of reasons, said Ann Bax, president of the nonprofit organization.

"A couple are living in their cars," Bax said. "We feel good that we are working toward not having any folks that are like that."

And, many haven't taken advantage of the items available to them at the distribution center. Shortly after the storm, the United Way and other organizations began receiving mountains of donated supplies people would need immediately and for some time to come.

Having first touched down in Miller County, the May 22 tornado smashed into parts of Eldon and left a path of destruction into Cole County. About 11:45 p.m., the twister ripped through a segment of East Jefferson City, before it crossed the Missouri River and dissipated.

In its wake, about 2,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. While the tornado injured a number of people, officially, no one was killed by the storm.

The joint shelter in Russellville (which served Eldon and Jefferson City victims of the tornado) has closed, according to Angie Springs, communications and marketing manager for the American Red Cross of Missouri and Arkansas.

"All of our shelters across the state (Missouri) are closed as those who were in need of shelter have transitioned to other sustainable housing," Springs said. "This could range from going back home, to finding a new place to live, to staying with family and friends."

But everybody whom the tornado affected didn't necessarily use the shelters.

 

Finding housing

The tornado's 3-mile path through Jefferson City left hundreds of people without homes. Many of the victims took shelter in temporary facilities in Eldon and Jefferson City. Shelters in the two communities were eventually combined into one shelter (about centrally located) between them — in Russellville.

The process of assessing damage and cleaning up began almost immediately after the storm. As did the search for housing for all the victims who faced displacement.

The Jefferson City Area Board of Realtors quickly developed a list of rental homes and apartments where the tornado victims might be able to find housing, board President Stephanie Biggs said. It also mobilized to offer help through the REALTORS Relief Fund for Housing Assistance, which offers assistance to homeowners and renters affected by severe weather. The National Association of Realtors has given Missouri a statewide grant of $150,000 for housing assistance.

The assistance may be used for mortgage payments (for homeowners) or for monthly rental expenses.

In the Cole County area, more than 60 people have applied for assistance, and the fund has provided $44,329 toward getting people back into permanent homes, Biggs said.

"Locally, what this is used for is housing — that's what we're interested in," she said. "We want to make sure everyone has a roof over their heads."

Statewide, Realtors have distributed $120,000 from the grant, Biggs said.

Many of those displaced by the storm will face the daunting task of coming up with deposits plus the first month's rent. The relief fund may be used for both; however, it is limited to $1,000 per recipient. Storm survivors who are relocating into new rental properties must have the address of the damaged home and a copy of their new lease when they apply for assistance. Checks are made out to the renter and the landlord, Biggs said.

"A lot of times, if they have a new lease, they need funds for the first month's rent and a deposit," she said. "If their new rent is $600 per month, and they have to give $600 for rent and $600 for deposit, we only give up to $1,000."

Letting people know they have this resource is the most difficult part of distributing the funds, Biggs said.

Realtors will continue to accept applications online through July 31 at thelanding.missourirealtor.org/jcabor/home

 

Matching families with homes

Less than a week after the event, the Missouri Housing Development commission approved release of $104,000 in relief funds to be distributed by Central Missouri Community Action.

CMCA serves eight counties in Central Missouri — Audrain, Boone, Callaway, Cole, Cooper, Howard, Moniteau and Osage. It uses federal Community Service Block Grants and community support to help clients with employment, education, housing, nutrition, emergency services and health, and to better use available income.

Initially, the relief funds were to provide hotel/motel vouchers for tornado-displaced families. CMCA is transitioning into helping clients pay deposits and first month's rent for new places to stay, said Angela Hirsch, CMCA chief program officer.

The tornado and flooding left impacts on a large number of people in the area, and the money has gone pretty quickly. CMCA has spent about $70,000 so far.

The organization can help with first month's rent, security deposits and utility deposits. And if people have utilities "in arrears," CMCA can help with that issue, Hirsch said. The nonprofit can hire contractors or pay for work to be done. It cannot pay for materials.

"We're trying to get them into permanent, stable housing," Hirsch said. "There's obviously not enough in Jefferson City. Low-income housing was at a shortage to begin with. These disasters (including ongoing flooding) really amplified that problem."

People who still need housing assistance should call CMCA's Cole County Family Resource Center at 573-635-4480 or visit 1109 Southwest Blvd. in Jefferson City.

CMCA will be at the table when disaster response organizers begin holding meetings for their Long-Term Recovery Committee, possibly as early as this week, Hirsch said.

 

Recovery transition

Nancy Tarasenko, a volunteer with the Seventh Day Adventist Community Services Disaster Response team, said the number of people traveling to the distribution center to pick up "consumable items" has been slow lately.

The center at Capital West Christian Event Center, 1315 Fairgrounds Road, is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays until further notice.

The center has received thousands of donations. Team members sort the donations into several categories — food products, baby products, personal care products, cleaning supplies and kitchen supplies.

"Right now, people can pick up consumables. Consumables are those things that people can use right away, even before they've been permanently located," Tarasenko said. "The next step is for people with long-term recovery to conduct 'case management.' They work with durable items."

Durable items are those things that people would only need if they were in their homes, such as beds, bedding, furniture, appliances, mirrors, televisions, wall art, etc. Those items would be for people who are finding housing but have lost everything.

"The durable goods at the distribution center won't be just handed out like the recovery items," Bax said. "Case management — Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri — will confirm they lost these things."

Last week, the State Emergency Management Agency trained the United Way Unmet Needs Committee on meeting long-term needs. The LTRC will be expansive, with a number of agencies, faith-based organizations and nonprofits around the table, Bax said.

Led by the core governing committee, it will consist of six segments:

Volunteer coordination, which will reach out to volunteer groups, locally and nationally, coordinate with the construction coordinator to match volunteers with project needs, and assist volunteers with logistics;

Construction coordination, which estimates homes' repair costs, plans projects and oversees construction, and works closely with case managers and volunteer coordinators;

Spiritual and emotional care, which assists people with emotional needs and refers clients to the LTRC for material assistance;

Community assessment, which canvasses the community, registers clients with unmet needs, turns case files over to case managers, and estimates total dollar amounts for repairs;

Disaster case management, which qualifies clients for LTRC services, completes checks to be certain benefits aren't duplicated, assists clients with recovery plans, and refers clients to agencies to match needs with services; and

Finance donations — cash and in-kind — which is responsible for LTRC financial planning, seeks in-kind and cash donations and grants, and coordinates with funders.

"This is SEMA's wheelhouse. This is their expertise," Bax said.

 

Case management

The case management piece is critical, she said. And, that's where Catholic Charities' expertise comes in.

Nationally, Catholic Charities is organized for long-term case management, according to Alissa Marlow, director of community services for CCCNM. Not only for the tornado, but for ongoing flooding across the state.

There have been at least 18 counties in the area the nonprofit covers that have submitted for federal assistance, she said.

CCCNM disaster case managers have gone through several trainings to become experts in the process, Marlow said. They understand how the process works with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and help households get onto "the road to recovery."

It's a complex, highly detailed process, she said.

"It's very holistic. We look at every aspect of their lives," Marlow said. "We want (families) to be in safe, sanitary and secure surroundings."

Missouri has made two requests for federal disaster declarations related to 2019 weather. The first came after severe flooding in Northwest Missouri began in March, and a series of severe storms struck the state beginning in April.

On June 7 — the same day President Donald Trump signed a $19.1 billion federal aid package — Gov. Mike Parson announced he was working on a second federal disaster request. That second request included aid for damage done during the tornado but also for ongoing and widely spreading flooding.

A timeline for when or if the request is approved has not been offered.

However, the second request included (required) results of joint state and federal preliminary damage assessments. The next step is for FEMA to review the request and send recommendations to the president, who will make a determination.

People are getting their immediate needs met, Marlow said. The slowing distribution of consumable goods demonstrates that.

And, CCCNM volunteers are completing outreach to people affected by the weather, whom the volunteers contacted during Multi-Agency Resource Centers held in late June and early May. The MARCs are considered one-stop shops for all the resources disaster victims need. They are intended to help people affected by disasters receive resources and move into recovery mode by providing community relief as easily for victims as possible.

To date, CCCNM has 10 open cases for management.

 

Experience matters

Because CCCNM anticipates it will need more case managers, the organization is hiring through Catholic Charities USA. That request has been passed on to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Catholic Charities organization there had hired some 260 case managers after Hurricane Katrina. Katrina was an extremely destructive Category 5 hurricane that struck New Orleans in August 2005. The storm exposed and breached the faulty levee system in the city, which caused more than 1,800 deaths.

Newly hired case managers can relocate to Missouri, Marlow said, noting cases may take years to conclude.

"This is one of the blessings of this national network of Catholic Charities," said Helen Osman, director of communications for the Diocese of Jefferson City. "Alissa knew immediately who to contact. We've had so many years of experience with this."

CCCNM is following all the federal guidelines, although many of the disaster sites have not yet been declared parts of federal disaster areas. If the declaration is made, the organization will turn over documentation to FEMA.

Meanwhile, there are concerns people have not contacted 211 to report to United Way staff members that the weather has affected them, Marlow said.

"We know there are people in Cole County who have not contacted 211," she said. "We know there's a population out there. We have to build trust with them."

As they provide what they can, recovery personnel continue to be in a bit of a "waiting pattern." What they're waiting on is a federal declaration, Marlow said.

CCCNM has not tapped into donated dollars yet, she said, for good reason.

"If FEMA comes in and gives people assistance to repair and rebuild, then we will use our money to fill the gaps," she said.

If CCCNM gives money to people who use it for repairs, and FEMA comes along later and gives them money for repairs, so the survivor uses the money to replace furniture, they'll likely have to pay FEMA back.

The recovery could take two years or more, Marlow said.

"Several states in the Midwest are experiencing natural disasters. It's kind of a waiting game now," she said. "That's why we're opening cases and seeing what we can do immediately."