The tornado that ripped through 3 miles of Jefferson City in late May struck several impoverished communities.
Many people the storm displaced were already adversely affected by poverty and qualified for Section 8 benefits — federal rental housing assistance paid to private landlords on their behalf — according to Melody Boling, a care coordinator at Common Ground Community Building.
Common Ground is a collaboration between a number of downtown Jefferson City churches that is intended to help families in their parishes overcome poverty. It's an outreach center that addresses the needs of its clients in poverty through relationship-focused approaches.
"We're trying to meet urgent needs today," Boling said during Friday's session of the Multi-Agency Resource Center (MARC). "Things like getting bus passes for clients and where to find affordable housing."
The MARC is considered a one-stop shop for all resources disaster victims may 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.
The Unmet Needs Committee for the United Way of Central Missouri discussed the difficulties of getting the word about the MARC out to financially challenged communities, said Abigail Anderson, director of the American Red Cross of Central and Northern Missouri.
"Imagine if you had no phone, your house was just destroyed," Anderson said. "No TV or radio — how do you hear about it? The hardest-hit communities were in low-income neighborhoods. Our biggest issue was letting people know about the MARC."
To help alleviate the concern, Red Cross damage-assessment teams conducted "Hot Shots" and went door-to-door to contact people and tell them about the center, said Jenny Solomon, an organizer of the centers.
Solomon added the Red Cross has connected with people who network in affected communities and gotten them involved in the information campaign.
On Thursday, 290 families attended the MARC in Jefferson City. They represented between 600-1,000 people. By Saturday, Solomon said more than 400 families were served by the MARC over its three days in Jefferson City and Eldon.
It's difficult to reach people in poor communities, state Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, said. Griffith said Friday that — following the tornado — he's concerned about the needs of people in poor communities.
Griffith was director of the local Red Cross chapter for several years and deployed to five natural disasters. The first he responded to was Hurricane (Superstorm) Sandy in 2012. The storm caused widespread flooding in New York, New Jersey and other northeastern U.S. states and was considered the deadliest hurricane of 2012.
"One of the things I saw there was that those who are really affected the most — not that others aren't affected — those affected the most are the most disadvantaged," Griffith said. "Many think they don't qualify (for help). They just don't seek out help unless somebody knocks on their door and tells them where to go to get it — or actually takes them there for help."
A number of people have said finding housing for people displaced by both the tornado and ongoing flooding is one of the most difficult tasks they have.
Housing is always an issue after an event like the tornado, Griffith said. Many people have a Plan B for when things go south, like staying with a friend or family member.
But people in extremely limited incomes don't even have a Plan A, said Jody Dickhaut, with the Seventh-day Adventist Church Community Services.
"(A disaster) just works doubly hard on them," Dickhaut said.
The disasters exacerbate low-income victims' situations, Boling added.
"Affordable housing was hard to come by prior to the tornado. A lot of our clients are working paycheck to paycheck," Boling said. "One incident — like a car breakdown — could result in their eviction."
For the people who lost their homes in the storm, that was a horrible blow, but many of them also had vehicles that sustained considerable damage, she said.
"One need that we typically don't deal with is that a lot of people's cars have been badly damaged," Boling said. "We've had a lot of requests for help replacing tires on cars or windshields on cars."
Also, people on limited incomes sometimes don't have the option to pick up and move, Griffith said.
During his work with the American Red Cross, Griffith said, he responded in 2017 to severe flooding of the Meramec River in Eureka.
Part of his responsibility was to greet people who came to the door at the disaster's MARC, Griffith said. A "forlorn-looking" man in his late 60s walked in. The man had been sleeping in his pickup for five days. He said it was the third flood he'd gone through at his home. Each of the previous times, he'd been able to wait it out. When the water receded, he went home and recovered.
But the 2017 flooding was persistent and long-lasting.
The man wasn't aware of any places where he could receive emergency food or shelter, and he happened to drive past the center that day and stopped in.
"He said he really didn't know where to go and what to do," Griffith said. "When he came out, he had a smile on his face, and he came over and gave me a big hug and thanked me for helping him. I didn't do anything — I was just a facilitator."
The man's spirits began to lift because he knew he wasn't alone in the disaster, Griffith said.
Another group that is doubly victimized by disaster is the disabled community, according to Ciara Harden, with Independent Living Resource Center. The ILRC is a nonprofit organization that strives to provide support and services for people with disabilities.
It helps people with physical and intellectual disabilities to live independently. Because the types of work they can do is limited, as is their income.
A number of the center's clients are in temporary housing in hotels or with family members.
Some don't want to leave their homes, Harden said. They worry if they leave, they won't have anything left.
"It may be dangerous for them to be there," Harden said. "We ask them what barriers keep them from leaving — and, 'Is it safe for you to be here?'"