Role of Faith-Based and Community Organizations in Providing Relief and Recovery Services After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Equity


The lack of guidelines and specificity for designated use of funds, populations served, standards about what constituted need, or service units raises questions about equitable treatment among recipients. For example, the storms were indiscriminate with respect to who endured major housing damage; some respondents viewed all victims as equally deserving, regardless of personal income or prospects for insurance reimbursement, and made no formal inquiries into clients financial circumstances. As one staff member who assigned rebuilding teams noted about a house on the beach, Just because you have a big home doesnt mean you have a lot of money.

Other respondents, understanding that funds were limited, required that the neediest, by their definition, be given priority and therefore that income and access to other resources, including insurance coverage, be considered in distributing assistance. In the sites that used long-term recovery structures, assessments included formal attempts to establish need and assistance received, either using FEMA or Coordinated Assistance Network databases, required documentation, or case management assessments regarding the extent of damage, resource levels, and other funding sources accessed.

In cases that were not part of a formal case management framework, chance and informal contacts determined the allocation of assistance. Some simply claimed that they knew the area, knew where the needs of the community were, and could appropriately bypass tedious paperwork that others could not. In their experience, those asking for services needed it most, and the greater problem was getting people to accept help. Some public funding was distributed without income eligibility criteria, as in one federal emergency grant that was used to hire local residents regardless of their level of victimization from the storm, and in another without regard to evacuee status.

In sites providing assistance through a congregation network or simply to those who appeared at their doors, questions naturally occur about how individuals who are not congregation members or who are not aggressive advocates on their own behalf are served. One church-based group that partnered with the case study organization attempted to serve its members first: We established a clear tracking system we were trying to identify [our members]Once I didnt need to focus on [them], I just focused on the mental health stuff. With regard to the same issue, a public agency that became a conduit for donations routed significant private donations to a local faith-based organization because the director believed that pastors were best suited to identify where services were needed. At least one case studied established networks based almost entirely on relationships the staff and board had with the members. Another case study organization alleged that no one was given religious services unless requested; a staff member in the same organization reported praying with everyone receiving assistance.

Similarly, the case studies leave open the question of how evacuees sorted themselves or were triaged to different congregations to obtain shelter. Evacuees are by definition strangers to host communities. A number of case study organizations made specific attempts to serve those that were outside their immediate networks. One faith-based organization with which PIPS and United Way worked as part of the Lake Charles disaster response structure set up a network of secular providers specifically because it recognized that many people were not involved in the church system. Another interviewee recalled an African American woman breaking down in tears saying she never expected the level of generosity that she received from white people. On the other hand, news of civil unrest in New Orleans and at Baton Rouges River Center was a sobering backdrop to those attempting to host evacuees, which could have influenced the response of FBCOs providing assistance. When reports surfaced of unrest at the Baton Rouge center, one shelter hired temporary security guards.

The government also had control over assistance by setting the rules by which public funds were allocated. Some on the Mississippi Gulf Coast were angered by the governors decision to allocate CDBG funds for flood damage but not wind damage. In so doing, according to some, thousand of homes of low-income individuals that were farther inland from the storm surge but severely damaged by wind were denied assistance from these funds.

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