By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Whenever Randall St. Pierre needs something, he hops on his bicycle and pops over to the Human Services Campus that serves tornado survivors.
His bike is his only transportation as a result of his losses in the 2011 Joplin tornado. He’s still living in one of the few remaining mobile homes installed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide temporary housing to people who were displaced by the storm.
But because the number of those still homeless has dwindled to 35 or fewer, the Human Services Campus operated by the Joplin Family Y is preparing to close. There will still be access to some services for the displaced tornado survivors until May, but they’ll have to go to the Y’s location downtown at Fifth Street and Wall Avenue to get assistance.
“Them moving is going to be a complication for me,” said St. Pierre when he stopped at the campus on Wednesday to ask workers to fax a document he needed to send.
When the campus was put in at 5708 N. School Ave. next to the FEMA mobile home parks on Highway 171 and Prairie Flower Road, it served about 500 families that had no place else to live. It allowed agencies, faith-based organizations, service groups and others to bring their services under one roof for those in need as the result of the tornado.
About 40 agencies and nonprofits, including Access Family Health Care, Ozark Center, Legal Aid of Western Missouri and Rebuild Joplin, used the campus to meet with those who needed help.
Mercy Hospital held community dinners there twice a month. Senior Connection held socials there. There were block parties, barbecues, events to entertain children and a lending library for books.
People who needed professional services — things like counseling or support groups, legal advice or General Educational Development classes — could go there.
Want to search for a house or a job? Computer access is available for that.
Need child care when you’re looking at houses or going to a job interview? That can be arranged.
All are examples of the access that tornado survivors had through the campus.
“There are still people who don’t know we’re here,” said Kellee Shepherd, campus director, even though there has been advertising of the location since the campus opened a year ago. And though the campus building will close on March 29, “we’d like to encourage whoever hasn’t seen us to come here before we close,” she said this week.
About 4,000 contacts have been registered there for everything from faxing a job application to seeking trauma counseling. “Some are repeat, some are not,” Shepherd said of the people who have come for things like job-skill coaching or even just a meal and some company at one of the social events.
But with the most of those 500 families and individuals relocated now to permanent housing, traffic into the campus is down to a trickle that doesn’t justify keeping the resources there anymore.
Darlene Harper, who with her husband, Thomas Harper, and 17-year-old son, Greg Lamp, has been living in a FEMA trailer near the campus, feels lucky for all the help she and her family have received since their home was destroyed in tornado.
“We’ve gotten used to it,” she said of the way of life of displaced tornado survivors. “We were staying in a pop-up camper in our backyard” immediately after the tornado until the summer heat drove them to search for other housing. They stayed with some friends and rented motel rooms as they could afford it until they got the FEMA home. “This was like the Taj Mahal coming from a pop-up camper,” she said.
By living in the FEMA park near the human services campus, the family made contact with the faith-based organization Samaritan’s Purse after the organization left a flier on their door. That organization is building the family a replacement house with volunteer labor on the lot where their house was destroyed at 2201 Empire Ave. Their new house will be ready in April or May, so they are one of the last few families preparing to leave.
“Our involvement with them has completely changed our lives,” Harper said of Samaritan’s Purse “Now, we want to do this work.” She and her husband plan to repay the help they received by using vacations from their jobs to go to other places to volunteer with groups like Samaritan’s Purse.
Another resident, Kurt Myers, said his future is not as clear yet as the Harpers. Since the tornado destroyed the home he was buying on contract for deed, he got sick and as a result of his illness lost his job. Now he’s hoping his application for disability benefits will be approved to help him firm up a plan for living quarters for himself and his 13-year-old daughter. His alternative is to find income-based housing, though there is little of that available, he said.
Until then, Myers, who said he never wanted to have to ask for help, has finally learned that there are times he must ask for assistance from his Salvation Army case worker, another service accommodated through the human services campus.
The Human Services Campus is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Information is available on Facebook at facebook.com/joplinmoHSC2012. The phone number is 417-553-4691.
A closing reception for the campus will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Friday, March 15. Any resident who has participated in activities or any former employee who has worked there may attend.