Saturday, February 10, 2007

Housing Funds

GULFPORT, Miss. - The Gulf Coast Community Foundation will administer more than $30 million donated for Hurricane Katrina recovery.

The money comes from the Mississippi Hurricane Katrina Recovery Fund, which Gov. Haley Barbour established for contributions pouring in from individuals, companies and foundations.

Rodger Wilder, the foundation's executive director, said so far $15 million is earmarked to rebuild and repair homes, and $6 million to build community centers in George County, Pearlington, west Gulfport, Woolmarket and Biloxi and other areas to be determined.

Eligibility for housing funds will be determined through a series of roundtables and committees that focus on unmet needs in the six South Mississippi counties.

"We're not going to make the decision as to who gets the money," Wilder said Thursday. "It's going to be done through the roundtable, and they have a case management process that's been operating pretty well."

Wilder said the funds will be available immediately.

The foundation already has handed out $6 million in Katrina-recovery grants to individuals and organizations.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

West Hancock Fire and Rescue

From a volunteer out of AZ who toured the FD because of another volunteer who is very partial to WHFR. She is sending this letter out to everyone she can think of. Please help her. This isn't the only fire department in need down there. They are all in similar situations. This will also be the Letter of The Week coming soon for you to send to your local church groups, FDs, county emergency services coordinators.

I just became aware of this situation and wanted to share it with you, as it is critical. I also find it astonishing as we are a year and a half post-Katrina. I am hoping that you can help me rally assistance for these firefighters so that this vital community component can stabilize and rebuild. Please share this with any firefighters, churches, first responder & medical personnel, foundations or individuals you know who may be willing to reach out to this community. They have already lost so much. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any additional questions that you may have:

The West Hancock Fire Rescue is the first responder to 18 miles of US Interstate-10 and is responsible for the emergency response to an industrial port - Port Bienville, in Mississippi – in addition to handling the wide range of emergency calls that come in to assist the residents of both Pearlington and West Hancock County. Pearlington was Ground Zero for Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. The town and its residents lost 100% of their buildings. The neighboring cities in Hancock County were also virtually wiped out, so they cannot help remedy this situation.

West Hancock Fire Rescue is a 100% volunteer department. The doors that they used to knock on for donations are all now gone, although many of the residents remain as they try to rebuild. The fire department is ineligible for grant monies because they do not have the 10% match of funds required to receive grants. It will be two more years before their tax base is rebuilt and they’re eligible for distribution of any local county funds. Meanwhile they have several complex situations they must be prepared for and respond to so that they can be there for their community.

As of today the West Hancock Fire Rescue Department has about a three week supply of fuel left. They have been donated several fire trucks from mid to small sized fire departments throughout the country. They will need assistance in sustaining a fuel supply in order to continue to be able to respond to emergency calls.

These firefighters are also in need of everything from basic response equipment and supplies on up to things such as an extraction tool, Haz Mat suits, a ram and VHF radios. They unfortunately do not have the funds to fix anything that needs even “just a little fixing”. As they stabilize and rebuild they are in need of their firefighter brothers and sisters, paramedics and EMT’s to come to the area and support them in responding to calls, as they have lost more than 60% of their department. They need help with funds to rebuild at least one of their two fire stations which were completely destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Every department member has lost their own home and struggles to juggle their paying jobs, rebuilding their own home and responding to the needs of a community that has already lost so much.

I know that the men and women of West Hancock Fire Rescue are so grateful for the outreach they have received in the weeks and months after Hurricane Katrina. They are determined to move themselves and their community past this situation. The reality is that they are in great need of physical and financial support in order to stabilize and rebuild - in what has now become an extraordinary situation, on top of an extraordinary situation. Today they deploy to their calls out of a trailer with the limited firefighting and rescue equipment that they have.

The immediate priorities of the West Hancock Fire Rescue are as follows. (Any and all support that you are able to provide in remedying this critical situation will be greatly appreciated.)
1- Fuel (gasoline and diesel) – $1,900 at per month x 24 months
2- EMT and Medic Supplies – The needs are various and ongoing until the community & department are stabilized
3- Grant Match Support of $11,000 - Currently they have been approved for a Fire Grant and will remain eligible for only a short while longer unless they are able to provide the “match”. The $11,000 would be the required match to then receive a $110,000 Fire Grant that would be provided to them by the government to buy much needed Fire Safety and Prevention equipment.
4- Firefighting & Personal Safety Equipment – All of there equipment/assets were destroyed and need to be replaced. (Today this Fire Department does not even have one Jaws of Life. As you know this tool is critical to saving lives on Interstate-10 and in places that other serious auto accidents occur Delayed removal of victims from an automobile in a serious accident can literally be the difference between life and death. It will also greatly raise the moral of the department, so that they are not in a situation where they leave scene thinking “If only I’d had a Jaws…”)
5- Fire House Funds – The cost to rebuild the West Hancock Fire Station is $345,000
6- Firefighter, Paramedic & EMT Support – West Hancock Fire Rescue is in need of trained professionals to volunteer come to the area to help them respond to calls, they are currently down to 9 department members who are providing round-the-clock response to all of their calls. This is a Call to Action to all First Responder brothers and sisters everywhere who would be willing to spend a day, a weekend or more down in Pearlington at the West Hancock Fire Rescue. Your presence would be of great physical and emotional help to this department. (Please contact the Department directly via the information on their website - hyperlinked at the top of this page)
Donations can be made directly to the Department. They are a non-profit. Anyone that you know who is interested in helping out, can also contact me via email or phone as indicated below with questions, to request a list of needed supplies or to coordinate support to this department. I have gotten FedEx to agree to assist with free shipping to Pearlington for those willing to donate supplies or equipment to WHFR. Anyone needing help with shipping should contact me directly to facilitate this.

Suzanne Stahl

Cell 602-791-7799
Office Direct 602-787-5356

Pictures of the FD
Articles re: WHFR

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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Washington Post Article

As Aid Lags, Volunteers Shoulder Rebuilding on Gulf Coast
Local Gratitude Mixes With Frustration Over Government's Failures
By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, January 28, 2007; A03
PEARLINGTON, Miss. -- The two-by-fours inside the walls of George and Margaret Ladner's new home are inscribed with biblical verses, each written by one of the Alabama schoolchildren who raised money to buy the lumber.
The framing work on the house was done by a Christian from Pennsylvania, the exterior planking was put up by people from Texarkana, Tex., and a group from Destin, Fla., worked on other details.
"This home was built by the hands of God," Margaret Ladner, 75, said from the couch of her new living room last week.
In this small rural community, as in much of the hurricane-ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast, this kind of motley charity effort accounts for the vast bulk of what halting progress has been made in the immense task of rebuilding.
While the national debate over the recovery has focused on the billions expected in federal aid and insurance, those sources have so far provided little for places such as Pearlington, and charity efforts have constituted more than 80 percent of the home rebuilding completed so far, local and charity officials said.
Fewer than one in five families here are back in their homes, but nearly all of them have relied to some extent on charity groups. The waves of volunteers typically come down for a week or two, work during the day and at night sleep on cots and bunks set up in places such as the old school library and huts on the community's football field.
"Without the volunteers and the donations, we'd still be in the mud," said Rocky Pullman, a tugboat captain who represents the Pearlington area on the Hancock County Commission.
In a county where nearly 11,000 homes were destroyed by the storm, the largest single home rebuilder is the local Habitat for Humanity project, which is undertaking the construction of 19 homes in the area, according to an official with the governor's commission on recovery. Other groups are aiming at similar numbers.
The reason for the charity's dominant role in the rebuilding is that little, if any, of the $3.2 billion in federal aid for Mississippi homeowners has reached anyone here -- it is tied up for now at the state level. As for insurance, most residents of this rural community lacked any form of flood policy. People say there just hadn't been a flood in recent memory, and of those who did have coverage, most had too little.
"If it wasn't for the good American citizens coming here, we'd be in a world of hurt," said Chuck Benvenutti, Hancock County representative on the Governor's Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding, Renewal.
The fact that now, 17 months after Hurricane Katrina, only a small fraction of the home rebuilding has been completed and that most of it has been done by charity groups is viewed here as both wonderful and disappointing -- wonderful that so many strangers have arrived to help, but disappointing that the federal aid and insurance payouts have proved, for now, so unavailable.
The charitable groups and residents also say they sometimes worry that as the rest of the country forgets about their plight, the flow of volunteers that they have relied upon could shrink.
Several expressed outrage that there was no mention of the hurricane recovery in President Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday.
"We still look like a bomb hit us, and then the president in his national address doesn't even mention us?" said Larry Randall, a retired boat captain and a coordinator of relief efforts at the Pearlington Recovery Center. "That really hurt."
Katrina made a nearly direct hit on this modest community, which once had about 1,700 people, about 77 percent of them white, about 20 percent black, census figures show. Most maintained houses -- a typical one sold for about $50,000 before the storm -- and the rest had mobile homes.
Katrina pushed ashore a surge of water that simply washed many homes away and filled others with as much as 10 feet of water, according to recovery officials. Eight local people died. Several rode out the storm by climbing tall trees and resting in their branches; others jumped from rooftops into boats.
Now the vast majority of the residents who have returned live in FEMA trailers, the skinny, 27-foot-long homes on wheels provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that house families in cramped quarters. Along the woodsy roadsides, hand-painted plywood signs offer community encouragement -- "Keep Hope Alive" and "Katrina Was Big, God Was Bigger." Stray dogs roam.
Every week, scores of volunteers descend on this community to fill the cots at the school library or the parsonage at the local Baptist Church or a camp run by Presbyterians. Last week there were more than 80 here, but at other times there have been as many as 200.
By day, they go out in work crews, framing houses, putting up drywall, installing doors. At night, some have prayer meetings.
This past week, at various sites one could run into Amish from Pennsylvania, Catholics from Massachusetts, Methodists from Illinois, Baptists from Mississippi and a Florida church group. The Amish crews, clad in their distinctive suspenders and wide-brimmed hats, have a non-Amish driver who takes them to work sites.
"Many of us were born with a hammer in our hands," said Sam Stoltzfus, 41, part of an Amish crew from the Williamsport, Pa., area. "This is fun. Yes, we're supposed to help people, but it's not like a chain around our necks."
Russell Geeraerts, 38, a general contractor from Helena, Mont., said he came down after the hurricane "for all the wrong reasons." He was going to volunteer for a couple of weeks and then come back with his own work crew to make some money.
"But then I asked myself, 'How could you?' " he said last week after lunch at a local kitchen, which like the various camps was set up to serve volunteers. "Just look at this place."
The $3.2 billion in federal aid disbursed by the Mississippi program has largely been untouchable by people in Pearlington.
The program's first phase doles out money to people who were flooded but did not live in the federally designated flood zone.
Most people in Pearlington live in the flood zone and must wait for the second phase to begin. Under its guidelines, families of low and moderate income will be eligible for as much as $100,000, less any insurance and FEMA rebuilding payments they have received.
In the meantime, not knowing whether they will receive aid, many families here say they have accepted, sometimes reluctantly, the help of the charity groups in the rebuilding.
Many put what they have into building a foundation, getting the home started. Then the charitable groups, which provide materials and work crews, do the rest.
Even so, many feel uncomfortable about receiving the help.
Frank Bello and his wife, for example, are raising five children. He worked in maintenance at the local elementary school. She is a nurse.
Last week, an Amish crew was putting together the frame on a new house for the family.
Just before Christmas, when Bello was hauling three loads of dirt to his home site, it began to rain. He told the volunteer work crew that he was sorry that they had to work in such conditions.
"They said, 'Don't worry, we're glad to do it,' and that made me feel better," Bello said. "But I still feel bad about it. Personally, myself, I like to be doing that sort of thing for other people, not having them do it for me. But now that's the way it is."

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