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From blue tarps to case management: conference moves into recovery phase

From blue tarps to case management: conference moves into recovery phase

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

From blue tarps to case management: conference moves into recovery phase

Feb. 25, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
407-897-1184     Orlando  {0255}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — The 2004 hurricanes are over, but thousands of people are still trying to get back on their feet. The conference's storm recovery center is doing all it can to help them succeed.

After Hurricane Charley hit Aug. 13 as a Category 4 storm that caused 33 fatalities, the Florida Conference set up the Florida Storm Recovery Center (FSRC) at the conference center in Lakeland. It has been operating ever since, through hurricanes Jeanne and Frances and beyond immediate relief into recovery.

During the initial relief phase after each storm the FSRC dispatched hundreds of work teams from 32 states to disaster areas and sent supplies, money and labor to assist in debris removal and distribution of food, water and ice. Center organizers estimate volunteers donated more than one million hours of service. Rebuilding communities is far from complete, however.

"It's expected that recovery from these storms will take up to five years," FSRC Project Director Marilyn Swanson said, adding the recovery phase is very different from the relief phase. "People may think that things are back to normal because it's not on the news any more and you don't hear a lot about it, but for people who live in these areas, it's not."

Long-term recovery is "calmer and slower paced," according to Swanson. 

"It requires a well-defined social-service management structure that includes case management, administration and volunteer coordination," she said.

The process begins with case managers and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) identifying target areas that have a high number of unmet needs, which are defined as needs that are caused by a disaster and limit or halt a survivor's recovery. An unmet need could be an injury or loss of income, housing, a vehicle or household items. It's also often compounded by stress or grief. Unmet needs are not pre-disaster conditions or on-going social issues, and they don't involve an upgrade to a person's previous living condition, such as turning a renter into a homeowner. Unmet needs must be identified by the survivor, verified by a case manager and agreed upon by the long-term recovery committee.

The FSRC is working directly with local long-term recovery committees to provide case management, training and supervision in areas where help is needed and requested. It's also receiving and coordinating volunteer work teams, identifying situations where teams are needed to help rebuild, scheduling training and workshops, and working collaboratively with other agencies and organizations, such as other religious denominations, the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and local United Ways.

"The goal of SRC is to restore, with dignity, the homes and lives that have been disrupted or destroyed by the hurricanes and to work cooperatively with local long-term recovery efforts," Swanson said.

DeSoto County is one of the hardest hit areas, according to Swanson. Funding is needed for materials and supplies to rebuild more than 100 houses.

"Warehouse space is almost non-existent," she said. "Items are difficult for us to store. Dollars are easier to leverage because then we can go and buy the building supplies that we need. We really do need to be able to fund our case managers to be able to get some things done. They already have some funds at their disposable, but they certainly don't have enough."

Case managers and management is a crucial part of the recovery plan. Both help families work through their plan of dealing with the disaster, such as rebuilding, seeking employment if it was lost during one of the storms, counseling, moving and securing financial assistance for special needs.

The Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of the Florida Conference Connectional Ministries office, said the case management approach came out of Hurricane Andrew recovery efforts and is the premiere delivery system for services that help with unmet needs. She said it's a team approach that assesses the needs of people who have not been able to take care of their needs in traditional ways.

The FSRC has held 12 case management-training sessions across the state, with more than 150 volunteers attending. "Case management is the key to long-term recovery. Without it, you can't determine who needs help," Swanson said.

A case manager is assigned to each identified survivor. Ideally, the case manager acts out of a deep faith to enable and empower the people he or she is working with to help themselves as much as possible, according to Swanson. The case manager's job is to identify the needs survivors have and connect them to resources, which is often done with several agencies working together.

The conference has four case management supervisors and seven case managers. They supervise volunteer case managers who deliver services directly and oversee volunteer work teams.

Case managers work with people facing a variety of situations, like one 92-year-old woman in an area hit hard by one of the storms who had no family or friends and was trying to deal with a leaky roof that had lost its tarp. She was assigned a case manager who helped determine if she qualified for FEMA assistance, the status of her claim and how to assist her through the recovery process.
Case management happens on two levels — basic and second. Basic involves doing whatever is necessary to help survivors get back on their feet, using a comprehensive step-by-step recovery action plan. The second level involves using funds, if available, to make home improvements that lessen the impact of future disasters.

Swanson said the United Methodist Committee on Relief has been a big part of the process, providing consultants experienced in disaster case management to help the conference's workers train and equip case managers in local settings.

The church's approach to case management is long-term, according to Swanson. She said it's going to take "regular, everyday people" who care about their neighbors, friends and relatives "to stand up and be their strength until they can stand on their own feet."
Individuals who would like more information or want to know how they can help may contact the storm center at 800-282-8011, extension 149.


This article relates to Florida Conference Disaster Response.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.