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Emergency Management/FEMA Provide Housing Help for Matthew Survivors

sert-logoRaleigh – Three weeks ago as Hurricane Matthew brushed along North Carolina’s coast, thousands of people fled their homes for safety. Most sought temporary shelter with friends, family or in hotels but approximately 4,000 people sought refuge in one of the 70 shelters opened by emergency management officials in 33 counties.

Since then many have returned home to begin the long cleaning, repairing and rebuilding process. Nearly 1,800 families have been temporarily placed in hotel rooms (paid for by FEMA). This morning, 378 storm survivors remain in one of eight shelters that are still open in seven counties.

“We’ve come a long way in the past three weeks in terms of assistance provided to storm survivors,” said state Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry, “but we still have a long way to go. FEMA, the state, counties and volunteers are doing all we can to help, but ultimately each individual, each family has to take charge of their own recovery.”

Sprayberry said disasters of this nature and magnitude usually require a four-step approach for housing. He said the first need is to provide immediate shelter before, during and after the hurricane usually at local schools or recreation centers. For those whose homes are severely damaged or destroyed, Sprayberry said the second step is to get them out of public shelters and into short-term temporary housing such as a hotel. For those with significant housing repair needs, the third step is to secure longer-term, temporary housing such as an apartment or perhaps mobile home-type unit. Of course the last and most important step is to get them back into their repaired home, Sprayberry explained.

Through FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance program, 1,786 families in nine counties have been able to get out of the shelters and into hotels. With help from local, state and federal emergency managers, families began checking into available hotels Saturday, Oct. 15. The usual two-week housing program is intended as a temporary fix until families can find a longer-term solution.  Fortunately, in coordination with the state, FEMA was able to extend the hotel stay for many families for another two weeks while local, state and federal officials continue working with families on more permanent housing solutions.

Teams of local, state and federal housing officials are working with each family – those in hotels, as well as those still in shelters – to find safe, secure and sanitary solutions for long-term housing.  

Beginning Monday, multi-agency shelter transition teams will go into the shelters to meet with each of the remaining families to help them determine the best short- and long-term housing plan. Each team will include representatives from: both state and federal emergency management agencies, American Red Cross, Division of Social Services, the U.S. Housing and Urban Development, and the Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster.

“The county, state and federal emergency management agencies, along with various volunteer agencies all have been working together to provide families with safe shelter from before the storm through the long recovery process,” said Joe Wright, NCEM Deputy Director. “We’ve opened shelters, provided hot meals and snacks and in several cases brought in temporary shower facilities where there were none. Volunteer groups are even providing child care in several shelters so the parents can focus on disaster assistance.”

Since the federal disaster declaration was approved October 10, more than $55 million in federal grants has been provided to storm survivors. An additional $10.3 million in low-interest federal loans already has been approved to help people repair their homes and replace essential items.  State and federal officials counsel the recipients to spend the money wisely and only use the funds for disaster-related expenses such as:

  • Home repairs including fixing structural issues, water, septic and sewage systems
  • Rental assistance for a different place to live temporarily
  • Repair or replace an essential vehicle that was flooded
  • Medical care for an injury caused by the disaster
  • Repair, clean or replace clothing or specialized tools that were damaged in the flood
  • Necessary educational materials (e.g., computers, school books, supplies)
  • Moving and storage expenses related to the disaster
  • Other disaster-related expenses 

 

Survivors are cautioned against using disaster grants for regular living expenses – such as utilities, food, medical or dental bills not related to the disaster – travel, entertainment or any discretionary expense not related to the disaster.

NCEM and FEMA have sent disaster survivor assistance teams into the shelters to meet with families to help them register for state and federal financial help, unemployment and nutrition assistance programs. The state also has already implemented Disaster Unemployment Assistance for 35 counties; activated a disaster legal services helpline; extended tax deadlines and temporarily waived vehicle registration fees for impacted counties; and is working to add crisis counseling services for impacted areas.

“It is imperative that funding provided to individuals for disaster recovery is spent on essentials such as housing, clothing and the basic necessities,” said Wright. “The counties, state and FEMA are doing everything we can to assist these families, but ultimately, the success of their recovery is up to them.”

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