This week wraps up the emergency shelter response to the area’s June 1 tornado.  The shelter operating out of the Mass Mutual Center closed yesterday, and the West Springfield shelter will close tomorrow.  The majority of people who were in the shelter have been rehoused in permanent housing; the few remaining households have been moved to motels and are expected to obtain permanent housing in the next couple weeks.

In four weeks, in a remarkable collaborative effort, our Network partners assisted more than 100 households to obtain and move into new permanent housing.   The rapid rehousing response that took place was a model of cooperation, with multiple agencies coming together to work as a single team.  FEMA and the Red Cross have said that they have never seen such an amazing and effective rehousing effort.

It was like a month-long Project Homeless Connect.  On steroids.

Here are the major components of this effort:

  • HAP and Catholic Charities began fundraising almost immediately, for money to assist people to access new housing.  The thousands of dollars they raised provided first, last and security deposits in most cases, but was also available to pay off back utility bills and prior rent judgments, to buy refrigerators or stoves, or to provide incentives to landlords or shallow subsidies for low-income households.
  • The MA Registry of Motor Vehicles waived the cost of replacement IDs in impacted communities for the month of June, the Springfield City Clerk waived the cost of birth certificates for tornado survivors, and Open Pantry Community Services assisted people with the process of obtaining replacement IDs and birth certificates.  The Social Security Administration set up shop in the emergency shelter to issue temporary Social Security cards.
  • Housing search workers from many different agencies formed a rapid rehousing placement team that operated out of the shelters.  In Springfield, the effort was led by Lizzy Ortiz and Jesus Arce from the city’s Office of Housing, and included staff from Springfield’s Department of Elder Affairs, HAP Housing, New England Farmworkers Council, the Springfield Housing Authority, Tapestry, Friends of the Homeless, Catholic Charities, and Springfield Partners for Community Action.   Equipped with an on-site copy machine, fax, phones and email, the housing search workers worked one-on-one with every household–assessing housing needs, determining appropriate options, helping to complete and submit applications, helping coordinate site visits and interviews, and following up with landlords to encourage them to make quick decisions.  The Center for Human Development, Catholic Charities, and DHCD  provided rapid rehousing services in West Springfield.
  • Multiple network partners appealed for landlords with available units to let us know what was available.  Direct contact with larger landlords and rental associations was combined with television and newspaper appeals.  DHCD and HUD contacted their partners seeking out available public and subsidized units.  Information about available units was immediately passed on to the full rehousing team.
  • Catholic Charities and HAP were ready to write checks as necessary to pay tenancy start-up costs.
  • DHCD’s Alvina Brevard was an integral part of the team; she assisted in organizing and focusing the effort, in accessing the resources of DHCD and their partners and in coordinating with other state agencies.  (Behind the scenes, it was clear that we had the support of the entire DHCD staff, under the leadership of Undersecretary Tina Brooks, who joined us at our initial meeting to organize the rehousing effort.)
  • The Massachusetts Justice Project and Western Massachusetts Legal Services were on site to assist tenants in getting back previous security deposits and rent for the month of June, to answer legal questions, and to provide advocacy.  WMLS lent an Americorps volunteer to the rapid rehousing team for the month of June.
  • The state expedited CORI requests from housing authorities, in order to speed up the decision-making process.
  • The Springfield Department of Health and Human Services and Vanpool coordinated and provided transportation.
  • Health Care for the Homeless and the Springfield Department of Health and Human Services were on site to provide medical care and support, including assistance in obtaining replacement prescriptions.
  • HAP Housing coordinated the efforts of multiple agencies accepting furniture donations and assisted in getting furniture to tornado survivors as they moved into new homes.
  • Because there is too much risk of bedbugs associated with used mattresses, the Salvation Army made a bulk purchase of new beds for impacted households.
  • The Red Cross provided case management and financial assistance to people in shelter.
  • The Springfield Public Schools coordinated transportation to ensure that all children at the shelter were able to continue attending school.
  • FEMA worked very quickly to determine eligibility and issue checks to survivors.
  • Immediately after the storms, DTA took the lead in establishing three Storm Assistance Centers in Monson/Palmer, Southbridge, and at the Springfield Liberty DTA offices. These centers, open seven days a week, provided a central location for the delivery of a variety of services such as food assistance, housing, unemployment assistance, and mental health services. More than 5,000 households were assisted at these centers through June 16th.

    As a result of the federal emergency declaration on June 15, DTA was authorized to administer Disaster SNAP (D-SNAP), a one-time benefit for people who do not already receive SNAP. To administer D-SNAP as quickly as possible, we transformed the three Storm Assistance Centers into Disaster SNAP sites, and added a second D-SNAP location at Springfield State. Working from tents pitched in the parking lots of the storm centers, we assisted more than 16,000 households who were not regular recipients of SNAP benefits in just seven days.  In addition, DTA provided replacement and supplemental payments to households who were already receiving SNAP benefits and had lost food due to storm damage and power outage.  DTA staff from across the Commonwealth traveled to the Disaster SNAP sites to assist local staff in this tremendous effort to provide food assistance to family impacted by the storm.

  • (I’m so worried that I’ve missed one of our team members.  Please tell me if I have and I will edit this to add them!)

Congratulations and thanks to all of you.

Our work is not done.  There are still many displaced households living with friends and family, and we will continue to assist them with housing  search and placement.  But at this one-month mark, I want to acknowledge the incredible work that has been done to date, and the amazing spirit of collaboration that everyone brought to the effort.  Our ability to bring this together so quickly is a result of the hard work we’ve been doing for years to transform ourselves from a bunch of independent providers into an effective Network that operates as one team.

I feel really proud to be a part of this team, and I hope that you do, too.

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