Chasing the Tornado Money

Illustration by Christopher E. Harrison and John Letness The Northside Community Response Team meets weekly at Summit Academy OIC. - Photo by Charles Hallman

By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer

The Minnesota Helps — North Minneapolis Recovery Fund was established by the Minneapolis Foundation, Greater Twin Cities United Way, and GiveMN.org, which distributed $206,123 for emergency relief services in early June. “No one was expecting a tornado, and so people rallied as quickly as they could,” Minneapolis Foundation Community Philanthropy Vice President Karen Kelley-Ariwoola told the MSR in a phone interview last week.

According to a July 6 Minnesota Helps press release, $513,258 in grants was also given to the Northside Community Response Team (NCRT), a collaborative group of over 50 North Minneapolis nonprofit agencies and other public and private organizations who have been meeting weekly since June at Summit Academy OIC. This amount includes $240,750 to assist NCRT’s “case management” services, among which are setting up a database to track storm victims and hiring “navigators” to work with storm survivors.

“That check will go to the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches (GMCC),” Kelley-Ariwoola pointed out. “They will be responsible for paying the navigators, communication, the database and administration of the (NCRT), and also responsible for reporting back to the foundation.”
“I think we do a very good job at managing money and serving as an intermediary on behalf of the group,” said GMCC President Gary Reierson.

Kelley-Ariwoola observed, “I think the North Minneapolis Response Team has done a phenomenal job of pulling people together…to plan and strategize on how to meet the needs of people impacted by the tornado.”

However, four storm victims, each of whom has attended at least one NCRT meeting, believe otherwise. In separate interviews with the MSR, each individually said that they haven’t seen anything being done by the group to date.

“If I had that $500-some thousand dollars, [I would] bring the people that needs the help to the table,” North Minneapolis tornado victim Regina Edwards said last week after attending a NCRT meeting. “They [the NCRT] don’t understand what it is to be out here beating the streets.”

“You want to stay on the North Side, to keep your kids at the same school, and you want to keep your kids and your family in a safe place. The people who come looking for these resources are not getting them,” added Edwards, a mother of five and a grandmother of one who admits that she has “trust issues” with the NCRT.

“If you are trying to help me…then you need to be out in the community, and not just for the photographers and the media,” she said. A former renter, Edwards said that her car had been towed away by her now-former landlord. “Now it’s not just a matter of being homeless, but I’m without a vehicle.”

“My roof collapsed, and I had extensive water damage,” said Sonya Mills, a 14-year North Minneapolis resident. “A lot of my things got damaged… I had a total loss.” She and her family of six first went to a shelter, then moved to temporary housing before she finally found a permanent location to live. “I don’t have the resources financially to do that move, as well as the essentials to be able to just function day to day.”

She came to a NCRT meeting hoping for a helping hand, but “No one is listening,” she said disappointedly afterwards. “They all are giving me referrals to call someone else, and to call someone else. Everyone just walked out the door [after the meeting] and wished me well.”
Dora Hill, a mother of five children, said she wants to stay on the North Side “and get things together.” She estimates that she knows at least 30 people who are in circumstances similar to her own.

“I was at the Armory, and then I was at North Commons. Then Elim [Transitional Housing] program helped me get into the housing I am in now,” Hill said. “I’m in the third phase of just getting things together, being able to pay my rent on my own, work my job as well as try to be an advocate in the community to help other victims like myself from the tornado.”

Another longtime Northside resident, Janice Buckingham, said she also is frustrated. She also lived at the Armory and North Commons Park after the storm. “I’m not mad at the Army. I’m not mad at North Commons,” Buckingham stressed as she expressed her frustration. She knows several other large families with young children who have been relocated into other areas.  “They got us all spread out,” she notes.

Standing outside Summit Academy OIC after she briefly spoke to the NCRT, Buckingham complained, “Everybody’s in there sitting at that table — they’re acting like it’s their money.” The money was donated “for the victims,” she believes, “so where is our money?

“I want to know what they did with [the money]. That is all I’m asking,” said Buckingham, who is also battling health issues with diabetes and arthritis.

“When it comes to meeting human needs, it never seems that we can move fast enough,” said Kelley-Ariwoola in response to excerpts from the four women’s comments. “I’m certainly not in the position to challenge what their individual experience has been. But I am not sure it is fair to direct their criticism or disappointment at the team perse.”

“There is a distinction between what we are doing together as a collective and what our individual organizations are doing,” said Pillsbury United Communities President-CEO Chanda Smith Baker, who chairs the NCRT human needs committee. “Any process takes time to jell. Most of the [NCRT] work is happening in committees.”

“This is not a service-providing group,” said Sanctuary CDC Executive Director Rev. Richard Coleman, one of five members on the NCRT “core team.” He claims the database should be operating in a couple of weeks.
“How you keep tabs on where people are going?” asked Edwards. “Everybody is not going to the County shelters. One mother is living in her car with her four kids because she doesn’t know what services are out there.” Edwards feels that if the NCRT “is really out there trying to help these people with this funding, they need to be out there finding out how many people are being moved from [North] Commons to wherever.”

“I don’t think there is anyone sitting at that table who is working hard not to be responsive,” said Kelley-Ariwoola.

She offered four key questions for organizations helping tornado victims at this time: “What are the unmet needs? Where are the gaps? Why aren’t they being met? How can we fix it? I’m sure that there are people who have fallen through the cracks or may not have gotten their needs met.”

As for the NCRT, “They need to have, not what I call these ‘back boardroom meetings,’ but they need to take out this money, get out into the community, and try to help [the victims] on a case-by-case basis,” Edwards said.

Kelley-Ariwoola explained, “The grants that were given out have gone to basic needs, case management, children and youth issues, including child care, summer programs for kids and youth jobs, areas of employment, housing and small business support. There are resources out there for the victims of the tornado. I think the ongoing challenge is to make sure that the resources get to the people.”

The Minneapolis Foundation “and all the donors to the fund are committed to making sure that people who need help get it,” she pledges. “That’s the bottom line. We are not walking away.”

Next week: The second story in “Chasing the tornado money” provides an overview of organizations in addition to the Northside Community Response Team (NCRT) that have received funds to assist tornado victims.

Residents affected by the May tornado can now call a hotline: 612-787-3730 from 9 am to 6 pm Monday through Friday.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.