The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

February 23, 2012

Tornado aftermath places strain on United Way's funds

JOPLIN, Mo. — Nine months after one of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history, Joplin is still experiencing a significant increase in the need for services to survivors and those who were left homeless.

Despite raising nearly $1.3 million in its last campaign, the United Way of Southwest Missouri & Southeast Kansas faces a shortfall of more than $864,000 in requested allocations, $600,000 of that as a result of the tornado, said Valerie Searcy, director of marketing. “We still have that much of a need for our partner agencies,” she said Thursday as the United Way prepared to put on its annual meeting and awards recognition.

The historic storm stripped thousands of families of their homes and most belongings; in some cases, jobs were gone as well.

The fallout is seen in nearly every aspect of life, which has translated into a stepped-up effort to couple storm survivors with services to try to help them get through.

A notable loss to many families was that of child care. The Joplin Family Y stepped up immediately after the storm, providing free child care last summer to allow parents time to find a place to stay and make whatever arrangements they could to get by temporarily.

Kimberly Gray, development director for the Family Y, said that effort blossomed into a project recently launched to provide services in a centralized location. She said 20 agencies that deliver health and social services are to have an office at the Officer Jeff Taylor Memorial Park that the Federal Emergency Management Agency established near the airport. Those include the Family Y, Sisters of Mercy Health System, Ozark Center, Freeman Health System, the Joplin School District, the Alliance of Southwest Missouri, Legal Aid of Western Missouri, Lafayette House and Rebuild Joplin. Anyone affected by the tornado may go there, not solely residents of the FEMA mobile home parks.

“The whole spectrum of services will be offered to help people get reintegrated,” to move from temporary housing into more permanent living arrangements, Gray said. “The goal is to help people get back on their feet in a better way than before the tornado.”

Pam Roychaudhury, a staff attorney at Legal Aid, sees those needs in her work. She said the United Way funds Legal Aid’s Voices in Court program that provides free legal representation to victims of domestic violence and abuse when they seek orders of protection. Many times, people who are abused are left without money or a way to support themselves and their children and are intimidated by their abuser, which prevents them from pursuing protection or causes them to go back to the abusive relationship.

In 2010, the agency represented 125 clients and 75 secondary victims, usually children or dependent family members. Since the tornado, her caseload has risen by 45 primary victims and 68 secondary victims, Roychaudhury said.

Reasons for the increase, she said, are stress created by the storm, financial burdens caused by it, and a lack of places to live, which forces some abuse victims to go back to their abusers for shelter.

“Many times we find they have other problems, such as a loss of housing, or problems with Social Security or Medicaid” that complicate their situations, said Janice Franklin, the agency’s managing attorney.

Lafayette House, which provides shelter for abuse victims, is experiencing a correlating need for assistance, said Louise Secker, director of community services.

“Our biggest increase is in the length of time people are staying with us,” she said. Residency time was about three weeks before the tornado. Now, it is about 35 days. “People are more likely to be on a waiting list for housing than they were before the tornado,” she said.

The United Way’s annual Volunteer of the Year award usually goes to an individual, but this year it was awarded to every volunteer and agency involved in area assistance. The recognition was announced Thursday by Ron Pence, outgoing board president.

United Way funds



NOT FUNDED: $263,073 plus separate tornado-related requests of $601,274 equals $864,347 in unfunded requests.

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