Navigators chart course of recovery for tornado victims—By Charles Hallman, Staff Writer

Managing residents through unplanned setbacks isn’t new for Shiloh Temple International, a North Minneapolis church. But doing this for folks affected by the May tornado has been a new responsibility ever since the storm passed through.

The church, located less than a mile from one of the stops the tornado made on its unexpected Sunday afternoon path, is one of three local entities that have hired “navigators” — persons “to steer the people who have been affected by the tornado to services for them,” explained Shiloh Pastor Bettye A. Howell.

“We decided to go with the word ‘navigator’ because we wanted not to sound like a caseworker,” explained Pillsbury United Communities President/CEO Chanda Smith Baker. “We wanted it to be a position that would be welcomed by people who may not have experience working in the County system.”

Minneapolis HELPS, the tornado recovery fund established by the Minneapolis Foundation, has provided grants to Shiloh Temple ($25,908), Pillsbury United Communities ($35,000), and Jordan New Life HUB ($20,000) “to carry out specific services to assist those impacted by the tornado,” according to Karen Kelley-Ariwoola, vice president of community philanthropy for the Minneapolis Foundation.

However, these funds were not for hiring navigators. Kelley-Ariwoola provides the following description of activities funded under these grants:
Jordan New Life HUB: To assist residents with tenant/landlord work and mitigation services, and provide behavioral health support to adults and youth impacted by the tornado.

Pillsbury United Communities (PUC): To provide emergency financial assistance to families in the impacted zones. Grant will also support the restoration of PUC’s offices that were damaged as a result of the tornado.

Shiloh International Temple: To support a summer program for school-aged children affected by the tornado, and provide basic needs assistance to families.

In addition to these grants, Kelley-Ariwoola explains, “Payment for navigation services provided by the HUB, Pillsbury United and Shiloh Temple is being managed through the NCRT [Northside Community Response Team] on a reimbursement basis, guided by a Memorandum of Agreement and performance expectations defined and approved by the NCRT.”

The NCRT received a grant of $240,750 on July 7 “to support an overall management plan of human needs of those impacted by the tornado,” according to a foundation press release. This grant included funding for navigators.

“The navigators are designated employees of Pillsbury, Shiloh and the HUB who are specifically assigned to assist tornado victims through the provision of case management services,” Kelley-Ariwoola explains. “Pillsbury United Communities is charged with central coordination of navigators.” The MSR contacted all three organizations last week for an update on their navigators’ work.

Shiloh has employed two persons, reported Howell. “We hired the two navigators in July, and we have been paying them through our church [funds]. We [Shiloh] have funded the program thus far.”

Six persons were hired as navigators by Pillsbury United Communities, said Smith Baker, and they are adding a seventh person who is multilingual in English, Somali and Spanish. She said her organization plans to submit a $13,000 reimbursement invoice to the NCRT, which is coordinating the recovery effort with Minneapolis HELPS.

Both Howell and Baker told the MSR last week that they have not as yet received any funds from the NCRT. The MSR learned as we go to press that all three organizations have submitted reimbursement requests to the NCRT’s Accountability and Transparency Committee.

When contacted, a spokesperson for Jordan New Life HUB referred our questions to PUC. However, a spokesperson from PUC who offered to answer our questions did not respond by press time. We expect to provide more information about this organization’s relief efforts in a follow-up story.

Howell told the MSR last week that Shiloh served 198 tornado victims in August, as well as “several hundred people” since late May. “Many of them were on assistance [prior to the storm],” she pointed out, “and they did not have any extra money to help with down payments and first and last month’s rent.” Shiloh Temple also bought bus passes, gasoline cards and food, she added.

“The first rush” of people needing assistance “was overwhelming to us,” continued Howell. “They were needing clothes, food, bus tokens.” Three months later: “Now they need…rental assistance, help with down payments, help to get moved, furniture, and [they] need to find a place to go.”

Smith Baker said the PUC navigators have used “a systemized approach” in assisting residents in such matters as landlord-tenant issues and dealing with contractors. A tornado recovery hotline also was established and is staffed daily by volunteers, she said.

“They [also] may need specialized services from Hennepin County that they are not familiarized with. There also are resources available [for which] only the navigators place the referral, because we want to make sure the resources go to people impacted by the tornado,” Baker noted. “The navigators are allowed to access resources without [the storm victims] telling their stories over and over again.

“The only thing the navigators can provide the residents are the resources that are available. They are doing their best, but there are not a lot of resources available for replacing cars, or replacing a home,” Smith Baker explained.
“There have been homes that have been impacted financially, but may not [have] the structural damage on the home. As you drive through the neighborhood and [off] the main streets…the need is still there.”

Both she and Howell have been impressed with how the community has responded since the storm’s aftermath. “I think our community has stepped forward as best they can,” Howell surmised. “It’s just so many people, and the need is so great. And it was already [that way] before the tornado.

“[It’s] not just our church, but I think other churches are helping as well. I wish we could help more.”

“We’ve committed to stay with these residents through their recovery,” pledged Smith Baker. “We may have to work with some of the families for months — this is not a case-open, case-closed [situation]. The work we are doing is deeper because of the trauma some of the families have experienced.”
“I wish we could do more,” said Howell. “We’ll just do what we can do, as long as we can do it.”

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