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story.lead_photo.caption Beckie Gierer, director of continuity operations and planning at the Missouri Department of Mental Health, right, talks about the response to and ongoing need of counselors to assist victims of flooding and May's tornado. Gierer is joined by Carol Mobley, middle, a crisis counselor for Show Me Hope, and Alyssa Borchelt of the Department of Mental Health's Office of Disaster Services. Photo by Julie Smith / News Tribune.

This is part of a five-part series exploring what was lost, what progress has been made and what challenges remain six months after the May 22 tornado in Jefferson City.

WEDNESDAY: The tornado took minutes to rip apart Capital City history and to leave deep scars.
THURSDAY: Significant strides have been made by some businesses, residents and organizations; many hurdles still remain.
TODAY: On the six-month anniversary of the tornado, a new sense of normal is emerging.
SATURDAY: Much of the immediate focus after the tornado was within Jefferson City limits. But people outside the city still face their own challenges.
SUNDAY: A housing shortage existed before the tornado. Now, the shortage has become a crisis. What work is being done to address the need?

Frustration mounts.

For many affected by the May 22 tornado, resolutions to their concerns aren't happening fast enough. Some are moving away. Some are angry. Some are reaching a new sense of normalcy.

Funded through Federal Emergency Management Agency grants, the Show Me Hope Crisis Counseling Program provides crisis counselors to help survivors understand their reactions to the twin disasters that struck Central Missouri — and flooding that affected the rest of the state.

Alyssa Borchelt, project director for the program who is with the Missouri Department of Mental Health, said counselors began reaching out to people affected by severe weather immediately after it happened.

At about midnight May 22, an EF-3 tornado, with winds in excess of 160 mph, thrashed through a stretch of eastern Jefferson City, demolishing homes and businesses. Meanwhile, prolonged flooding added to Mid-Missouri residents' woes.

Counselors continue to contact disaster survivors.

"We've heard from a lot of crisis counselors and their team leaders that there is a lot of anger still — anger and frustration," Borchelt said. "There's a lot of anxiety because of the unknown. (Survivors are) not sure what is next."

Crisis counselors are seeing children and adults displaying traumatic stress responses to severe weather and thunderstorms, watches and warnings, as well as rain causing fear, panic and anxiety, she said.

Survivors whose homes still have damage are experiencing and expressing irritation, aggravation, frustration and some helplessness, she continued.

Some families received assistance from FEMA to move into temporary housing.

Now, people are having to move or being evicted because the place they moved into was beyond their financial means.

The lack of housing was an issue before the storms, remains an issue and always will be an issue, she said.

It causes a lot of stress.

"(Survivors) are kind of going through all the resources, and suddenly they're coming to a stop," Borchelt said. "They're trying to figure out the next step. We're trying to help them through the next steps."

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Recognizing that stress is a normal reaction to what happened is a first step in learning to cope with the challenges that face people every day, she said. Talking about stress or worries with family, friends and neighbors can provide a source of comfort and assistance in difficult times.

If people need further resources, beyond what the CCP provides, counselors may refer them to other agencies or organizations that would be able to help them, said Beckie Gierer, director of continuity of operations planning for the state Department of Mental Health.

The CCP's mission is to help people and their communities recover from effects of natural (and human-caused) disasters through outreach and psycho-educational services. The program is divided into two programs.

Immediately after a presidential disaster declaration, the Immediate Services Program kicks in. It's intended to operate for only 60 days but ran much longer for disasters that affected the state this summer. It recently closed. FEMA provided $752,242 for the program, which the state administered.

The second phase of the CCP is the Regular Services Program, which was initiated Monday and is to operate for nine months. It will end in August 2020. FEMA provided $2,474,911 for the program. Both programs are statewide.

The CCP is intended to provide general support and information on resources and available services for survivors, group sessions led by trained crisis counselors, public information about disaster reactions, coping strategies, information about resources, relationship-building between community resources, assessments and communications materials.

In Central Missouri, some of the survivors already had "stressors" in their lives, such as unstable jobs or housing or concerns about transportation and food, Gierer said. Adding a disaster on top makes it harder for survivors to cope.

Crisis counselors continue to see a lot of people who are experiencing trauma for possibly the first time, along with people who have experienced repetitive trauma, crisis counselor Carol Mobley said.

"How well do those people cope?" she asked. "Some have better coping skills because they've been through it. Some of them are not coping and are moving — and picking up and going elsewhere."

Immediately after the tornado, Jefferson City churches canvassed neighborhoods with staff from Compass Health, which provides mental health services in the community, said Ann Bax, president of the United Way of Central Missouri.

"They have done an amazing job of going out and finding individuals," Bax said. "Many didn't want to leave their homes. We let them know we can help them."

Faith-based groups were critical in the process, she said.

"People have a trust with faith-based groups, even if they weren't their church per se," she continued.

Among them were representatives of SOMA Community Church.

Many of the tornado's victims left their homes the night of the storm. Others clung desperately to the hope they wouldn't have to leave. However, for many, a move was inevitable.

To this day, many wonder where they'll end up, SOMA Pastor Jon Nelson said.

"We have people who are moving, trying to figure out where they're going to land, whether they are going to stay in the city," said Nelson, whose church serves many of the people affected by the storm. "We as churches are tracking our members and trying to love them well through the process. It's a long and very confusing process."

The twin disasters in Central Missouri have tied the faith community together, Nelson said. Memorial Baptist, One in Christ, Grace Evangelical Free, Joshua House and SOMA churches have gathered together for "Worships in the Park," he said.

"There have been multiple incursions (check-ins and canvassing) off Jackson Street," Nelson said. "Our church — and many other churches — canvass the community consistently to find out who's there or who's not there and really press them back to their places of faith."

Even with that pressure, the churches are treading lightly.

"Are we re-instituting trauma unintentionally?" he asked.

Some ministers — not all, he cautions — are qualified to provide mental health services to the public.

"We, as ministers, have done a lot with those (survivors) already," Nelson continued.

But organizations, like Compass Health, can provide mental health care beyond that of ministers, he said.

The storm affected hundreds of people in the eastern Jefferson City community, he said. And the canvassing has lessened.

"Because people have re-established jobs, re-established households," Nelson said. "maybe found a new place to live, or do whatever they're doing, a sense of normalcy has kind of swept over a lot of people — a new normal, if you will."

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An organization tasked with easing the community's suffering and helping residents reach that new normal is Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri. The nonprofit is conducting case management for this summer's flood and tornado victims.

Dan Lester, executive director of the organization, said it had hired two full-time case managers, had people working part time as case managers and had 30 cases in active management, as of Monday.

The cases the organization is working with are some of the more-severe-need cases, Lester said.

In the "disaster relief world" there are four tiers that case managers put households into based on their various needs.

"A simple way to describe it is: The tiers are a rough description of the severity of the impact that the natural disaster had on a particular household," Lester said. "We think about Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The bottom of that is going to be: Do you have food? Do you have shelter? Do you have clothes on your back?

"Then you get into those higher needs-type of issues as you move up that."

People who fall into the first tier have "pretty well been taken care of," he said. They may have a few things they need help with, such as paying an insurance deductible.

Those in the second tier may have had to move and have been rehoused. They may have had their first and last month's rent paid for them and are set to get on with their lives. However, they may be working part time and need to find full-time work to make ends meet.

"OK, great. Let's help you do some job searches. Let's point you in the direction of some job training that's out there. Let's get you over the hump to where you're going to be completely secure," Lester said.

The third tier is becoming a little bit more severe. Perhaps someone had been housed, and perhaps through the generosity of some organization they had been able to get their first and last month's rent paid. However, maybe they don't have a job, and they're getting to that place — if they don't start to generate some income soon and don't receive immediate assistance — that they'll be going back to the providers and saying they can't keep paying.

"They're facing some imminent, long-term challenges if things don't change," Lester said.

However, people in the fourth tier are still at the beginning "building blocks" of recovery, he continued. They've now been displaced for six months or were housed initially but couldn't maintain housing and ended up back in a shelter or couch surfing.

"It's those folks that really have those immediate needs," he said. "Or those folks who have a multiplicity of needs. Not only do they struggle with housing, but maybe they've got some severe trauma from the event. And maybe they are struggling with behavioral health challenges. Maybe they've got a physical disability that makes getting them into housing more difficult as well."

The people in this tier are going to have multiple challenges that all need to be addressed to help them reach a full recovery, Lester said.

Anyone with tornado- or flood-related issues should contact Catholic Charities at 573-635-7719.

Case workers with the nonprofit can identify resources for survivors if FEMA doesn't meet all their needs. It will take the cases to the Long-Term Recovery Committee, which is prepared to fill their needs. However, it also has familiarity with organizations outside the committee that may help.

John Doyle, the parish social ministry coordinator (and a part-time case worker), had been working with a man who was affected by flooding. The man needed a wheelchair ramp at his home. Doyle realized Catholic Charities had a strong connection with Veterans United, which serves clients seeking Veterans Affairs loans but also supports veterans by taking on other projects for them. He reached out to the organization, which was able to pay for and install the ramp for the man, Lester said.

He said Catholic Charities wants to be a good steward for donors, who have given money to support the Long-Term Recovery Committee's projects.

"We don't want to just run to LTRC with all these cases if there are resources that are available," Lester said.

Catholic Charities' case workers are staying apprised of what's available for their clients.

Lester cut out a recent report from the News Tribune about where and when Thanksgiving meals will be available so he could share it with case managers and ask them to be certain all their clients receive the information.

"It's a continuing process of 'What are those resources that are out there?'" Lester said.

Catholic Charities reached out to the United Way's Unmet Needs Committee in Jefferson City to find a comprehensive list of the toy giveaways and giving tree-type programs that will be available in Jefferson City or Eldon.

"Because we want to make sure that everyone we're working with knows those programs are out there — and we want to make sure all the different denominations have that information as well," he said. "We've got families this year who could really benefit from your giving trees or whatever it is that you're doing."

Data show the severe spring weather affected roughly 600 households, he continued.

Catholic Charities has had contact with about 400 of them, either through in-person meetings or phone conversations.

With churches, the organization goes door to door. It calls survivors and sends letters as much as possible, but getting people to respond is challenging at times, he said.

Of the families affected, possibly 300-400 will need some sort of assistance.

"The number who ultimately end up needing more intensive case management services — again, it's a guess — but maybe 15 or 20 percent of those 600," Lester said. "It's really hard to tell."

Sometimes people are resistant to having help, regardless of whether case management might benefit them.

The resistance may come from a "really good place" of a person realizing they're not that bad off. They may think somebody else could use that assistance.

"We try to break through that a lot. It's for everybody," Lester said. "It's amazing how resilient people are."

How survivors identify or reach a new normal following the disasters — or create a new beginning — is up to them, Borchelt said.

"It's very individualized. It's not specific to one group of people or one individual," she continued. "Everybody builds their own new normal."

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