After widespread flooding in April left communities throughout the suburbs underwater, various government agencies quickly responded.
And once the floodwater receded, millions of dollars in federal assistance flowed into the region to help tens of thousands of residents repair their homes or relocate.
So why — seven months after the floods — are there hundreds of suburban families still living in homes with ruined furniture and appliances, damaged walls and doors and, in many cases, mold infestations?
Susanne Gilmore, an emergency response specialist with Church World Service, says there always will be a vulnerable population — especially those who are elderly, disabled or living below the poverty level — that doesn’t have the personal resources to respond when disaster strikes.
“After FEMA comes in, after insurance — if they have insurance — they still have many needs,” Gilmore said. “I have never seen a disaster where there weren’t unmet needs after all the initial resources came in.”
To help local residents with unmet needs, Church World Service last week held daylong disaster recovery workshops in Lisle and Chicago for faith-based groups, religious leaders, community leaders, social service organizations, disaster case managers and others with money, goods, labor and expertise to contribute to the flood recovery.
The two “Recovery Tools and Training” workshops were organized by FEMA and the Community Organizations Active in Disaster of Northeast Illinois.
The goal of the workshops is to get the various groups to join a long-term recovery effort, according to David Roth with Lutheran Child and Family Services of Illinois. Roth is organizing such a group to serve Lake, McHenry, Cook, DuPage, Kane and Will counties.
According to Roth, roughly 90,000 residents statewide registered with FEMA after the floods. Many of those people were eligible for individual assistance.
When FEMA closed its registration, the Chicago chapter of the Red Cross followed up with thousands of residents who registered in this area to see if they still had unmet needs. Those residents were contacted because they “had a condition that would indicate there might be some issue,” Roth said.
The Red Cross’ outreach effort identified about 400 families in DuPage, Cook and Lake counties who will need some long-term assistance.
Red Cross officials said there were 362 requests for mold remediation in Cook and DuPage counties. There are also requests for new furniture, appliances and home repairs. In addition, there are apartment dwellers who need help finding a new place to live.
“We now know there are 400 families out there with needs,” Roth said. “We’re calling on community leaders to raise the visibility of the needs of those families and work with us to get those needs met.”
Barry Shade, associate director of domestic emergency response with Church World Service, said the churches and other community groups need to get involved because the help the federal government provides is limited.
The largest grant an affected homeowner can receive from FEMA is $29,800. And the point of that money is to make their home habitable.
“It’s not to rebuild your house,” Shade said.
Roth agreed that FEMA assistance isn’t intended to restore someone’s house.
“It’s a supplement,” he said. “It really has to be built upon personal resources like insurance.”
Roth said officials are hoping to renew energy in the community to reach out and help those who are still struggling.
During the workshops, presenters talked about basic organization and working together. Topics included disaster case management, emotional and spiritual care, construction and volunteer management.
“Even more valuable is we’re bringing people together that need to network and work together,” Shade said.
Congregational Church of Algonquin was among the local churches that sent members, such as Sue Kreibich, to the workshop in Lisle.
She’s planning to share what she learned with other church members.
“We look at different situations where we could be assisting people,” she said.
Marge Franzen, who works at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lisle, said the April flooding highlighted the need for groups to organize and be ready to respond to local disasters.
“We’ve had a lot of disaster teams go to other areas. This was the first local disaster that we were involved in,” said Franzen, adding the church’s site along Route 53 served as a shelter for about two weeks for residents displaced by the floods.
“If we’re going to be doing this,” Franzen said, “we need to get more coordinated with the other service organizations.”
Gilmore told the groups assembled at the Lisle workshop that if they work together now, it will pay off in the future.
“The next disaster could be a tornado,” she said. “If you organize now, your community will be more resilient the next time a disaster strikes.”Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.