The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

June 12, 2011

Red Cross downsizing, closing shelter at MSSU

JOPLIN, Mo. — Bill Mooney doesn’t know where he’ll be living on Tuesday.

Mooney, his wife, their daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren have been living in the Red Cross shelter in the Leggett & Platt Athletic Center at Missouri Southern State University.

Signs went up on Friday saying that the shelter, which housed 67 displaced people as of Friday night, would be closing at 5 p.m. Tuesday.

Since moving into the shelter shortly after the May 22 tornado, Mooney has been applying for assistance and looking for a new home, while trying to help his daughter do the same. He said various agencies have been trying to offer assistance to those looking for a more permanent place to live, but local housing is limited and assistance is slow.

“A lot of people are getting really upset,” he said.

Mooney is waiting on a check for $938 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He said he was told the money was meant to cover two months of rent. “You can only live where you can afford,” he said.

Mooney said he had visited a potential residence that would cost $300 a month for rent, with the move-in deposit waived. He said the floor was buckled, uncarpeted and had holes in it.

“I wouldn’t let my dog live there,” he said.

Steve Woods, spokesman for the American Red Cross, said the agency will not completely close its shelters as long as there is a need. He said the organization is transitioning to a smaller site. The location of the site is to be determined on Tuesday.

Woods said the Red Cross is under no pressure from Missouri Southern to leave the campus.

Woods said that while the Red Cross aims to provide displaced people with resources and help getting into a more permanent living arrangement, it ultimately is the responsibility of individuals to contact relief agencies and make their own plan for the future.

“If it’s a matter of you haven’t made those calls, we’ve got you covered,” he said. “We’ll keep the shelters open, but why haven’t you made those calls yet?”

Woods said the Red Cross will never throw out shelter residents who have no place to go, but that people need to be proactive. He said shelter downsizing can motivate people to find a long-term solution.

With a deadline to find that solution looming, many shelter residents said they are waiting on some sort of assistance and turning to FEMA mobile homes as their last option. The first of 10 FEMA mobile homes arrived Saturday at Camp Crowder in Neosho.

Woods said shelter residents should have first priority when the mobile homes are ready, but that displaced people need to be flexible about where they live and what kind of dwelling they are willing to occupy when housing becomes available.

“Unfortunately, there will be some unpopular decisions that have to be made,” he said, meaning people may not be able to live in their old neighborhoods even when FEMA housing arrives, or they may have to leave Joplin for a time until more housing becomes available.

Annette Webb has been staying in the shelter with her two children and two grandchildren. She said they haven’t been able to find any housing options, and that all five of them together are willing to live in a one- or two-bedroom home.

She and her oldest daughter, Ashli Robinson, are hoping to get FEMA mobile homes before the shelter closes. If they can’t, they plan to move to another shelter.

“There’s just nothing,” Robinson said. “FEMA keeps telling us the best thing to do is relocate.”

For some, leaving the area isn’t an option.

Ronnie Irby, who lived near 18th Street and Vermont Avenue with a roommate, is trying to get proof of his former address so he can make arrangements with FEMA.

Irby said he was told by FEMA that his best bet is to relocate, but he can’t leave the state as a condition of probation. He said that even if he could leave, he wouldn’t want to do so.

“We all went through this (tornado) together, so we need to try and get through the rest of it together,” he said.

Until the shelter closes Tuesday, residents will work with relief agency officials, make phone calls, and decide whether to move to whatever site the Red Cross has available.

On Saturday, Mooney played with his grandson while his wife hunted phone numbers for Department of Housing and Urban Development housing and other low-income options.

“Ain’t life grand?” Mooney said, gesturing to the sign announcing the closure of the shelter. “What are we going to do come Tuesday? I don’t know. That’s a million-dollar question.”

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