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Sunday, May 26, 2024

An overview of United Way’s recovery work in the Cape Fear region, nearly a year after Florence

A flooded neighborhood on Alexis Hales Road near the Black River in Currie, North Carolina, Wednesday, September 19, 2018. (Port City Daily photo | Mark Darrough)
Most of the funds from United Way Cape Fear Area (UWCFA) in Pender County have gone toward home rebuilds and repairs due to damages incurred by Hurricane Florence. Here, a flooded neighborhood on Alexis Hales Road near the Black River in Currie, western Pender County, five days after Florence made landfall. (Port City Daily photo/Mark Darrough)

United Way of the Cape Fear Region (UWCFA) has raised nearly $2.1 million for Hurricane Florence recovery efforts. A look into how that money was spent and the challenges going forward.

WILMINGTON — More than 40 local and regional agencies in the four-county Cape Fear region have received funding and volunteer assistance from United Way of the Cape Fear Area (UWCFA) in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence. 

The organization, which effectively acts as a local franchise of United Way Worldwide, has so far raised nearly $2.1 million earmarked for short-term and long-term Florence recovery efforts. As of June 30, the end of its fiscal year, just over $1.1 million of these funds have been spent, according to UWCFA Vice President Tommy Taylor. 

RELATED: Pender County releases ‘After Action Report’ detailing areas for improvement, ten months after Hurricane Florence

This week, Taylor sat down with Port City Daily to discuss how that money has been used and the main recovery challenges facing the region going forward. 

How the money was spent

First, a look at how a majority of the $1.1 million has been distributed among the region’s four counties, and within each, the portion spent toward home rebuilds versus temporary housing (which include rental deposits and first month’s rent):

  • New Hanover: 30% (breakdown: 12% for rebuilds, 88% for temporary housing)
  • Pender: 27% (breakdown: 63% for rebuilds, 37% for temporary housing)
  • Brunswick: 24% (breakdown: 10% for rebuilds, 90% for temporary housing)
  • Columbus: 19% (breakdown: 33% for rebuilds, 67% for temporary housing)

As seen above, most of these funds were spent on temporary housing. The one exception was in Pender County, where 63% was used for home rebuilds and repairs. This was a result of widespread freshwater flooding damage in the low-lying areas of the county. 

According to Taylor, UWCFA spent an average of $10,000 on 45 home repairs, pooled with funds raised by local and regional agencies, equating to roughly $450,000 out of the total $1.1 million spent. An average of $1,000 was spent to relocate 364 families into temporary housing accommodations, equating to roughly $364,000. 

Taylor said that although reports — due at the end of July — are still being compiled, the remaining $300,000 in funds were spent on basic needs for partnering agencies, including sheltering and feeding. A portion was spent on U-Haul rentals to move people during mass evictions as a result of condemned housing and for clothing for more than 900 children in Pender County who were homeless because of the storm, according to Taylor.

Taylor listed the overall outcomes of UWCFA’s fundraising and networking as follows: 

  • $1,109,644 funneled through 44 local and regional agencies;
  • $300,000 contributed by United Way Worldwide;
  • 9,000 individual cases managed;
  • 22,488 meals that fed 5,622 people;
  • 364 families put into rental accommodation (average $1,000 UWCFA funds per relocation);
  • 45 homes repaired in the 4-county region (average $10,000 UWCFA funds per home);
  • 54 families prevented from being homeless.

Creation of long term recovery groups

Taylor said the 9,000 individual cases were gathered in Red Cross-operated shelters immediately after the storm and plugged into databases managed by Catholic Charities. He called this a vast improvement from the coordinated response to Hurricane Matthew in 2016.

“One thing we saw with Matthew was that people were leaving shelters and we weren’t capturing their information. We had to go out and find them again,” Taylor said. “So we sort of had a head start; the only problem was there were so many more people [affected] than after Matthew.”

He said Matthew primarily hit homes in Pender and Columbus Counties, whereas Florence heavily impacted the entire region. 

After Florence, the cases were eventually shifted to Endeavors, a national nonprofit that won a contract for case management in North Carolina. To coordinate resources among the 44 agencies partnered with UWCFA to assist with these cases, long term recovery groups (LTRGs) were created in each county. 

A uprooted tree in the backyard of a home in the Carolina Place neighborhood east of downtown Wilmington during the calm between the inner bands of Hurricane Florence Friday morning. (Port City Daily photo | Mark Darrough)
A uprooted tree in the backyard of a home in the Carolina Place neighborhood east of downtown Wilmington after the first bands of Hurricane Florence passed over the region. (Port City Daily photo | Mark Darrough)

Columbus County already had one called Columbus County Disaster Response, a certified nonprofit that Taylor said was well experienced since its creation during Hurricane Floyd in 1999. Taylor said UWCFA can work directly with the group because of its 501 (c)(3) status. 

“I think FEMA would say it’s the best functioning LTRG in the state,” Taylor said. 

After Florence, UWCFA helped create the New Hanover Disaster Coalition, Pender County Long Term Recovery Group, and Brunsco VOAD. He said UWCFA serves as a fiscal agent on the boards of these three groups, funneling money through their subcommittees, and writes grants for unmet needs. 

As an example, he said Lutheran Services, Catholic Charities, and Salvation Army may each contribute a certain amount towards a home’s reconstruction needs. 

“That’s where United Way comes in, uses our unmet needs grant to cover the difference, and end up with a new roof on someone’s house,” Taylor said.

Only one with a paid director position

According to Taylor, the New Hanover Disaster Coalition is the only LTRG in the four-county region to have a paid director position, which is technically employed by the Harrelson Center in Wilmington. He said UWCFA contributes $10,000 to the annual salary, alongside contributions from two local churches, the city of Wilmington, and New Hanover County.

“As a fiscal agent I said, ‘Well then, how do we fund that?’ Once a bunch of agencies cobbled the funding together, there was a search process, interviews, and they identified someone to do that,” Taylor said. 

He said the decision came after the group’s chairs and subcommittee chairs realized they had “overcommitted and realized they couldn’t keep up with the pace.” UWCFA was willing to contribute because multiple local agencies were also willing to give two-year commitments to fund the salary, according to Taylor.

He doesn’t expect that happening in the other three counties’ LTRGs, including Pender’s, where he said its LTRG received funds via grants, largely from Foundation for the Carolinas and the North Carolina Community Foundation. These grants were restricted to unmet needs, according to Taylor. 

“My experience writing grants for positions doesn’t work,” Taylor said. “There’s not a lot of foundations that want to do it. Donors that give randomly to disasters aren’t planning to pay for positions they want the survivor to have the money.”

He said UWCFA has only spent $7,900 in Pender County through those unmet needs grants, and that a majority of the cases there have been funded and handled by Catholic Charities and Lutheran Services Carolinas.

‘People forget: there’s still people out there’

Taylor said he accompanied Baptists on Mission to inspect two homes on the Black River in western Pender County in early September. Reconstruction of the homes had just been completed after damages incurred by Hurricane Matthew. 

“The next week, Florence hit; and we still have dual impacts out there,” Taylor said, referring to homes damaged by both hurricanes. “I think a lot of people forget about it once things start seeming normal again, they forget that there’s still people out there.”

He also said that unmet needs across the four counties are beginning to emerge more and more as partnering agencies are beginning to run out of money. UWCFA has handled only three cases in Pender County while it is just beginning to receive cases in New Hanover County, according to Taylor. He said UWCFA grants come in to cover the difference when agencies cannot fund projects themselves.

He also pointed to a shortage of affordable housing options in the area. Accommodations that were affordable after previous storms are now hiking the prices up, according to Taylor. 

“We had an affordable housing crisis before Florence; now it’s worse,” Taylor said. “And we had a case management deficit before Florence and now it’s worse. Any of these problems we had the mental health issues, everything we’ve been dealing with beforehand just got extremely agitated. That’s what we’re dealing with now.”

And although fundraising has doubled compared to an average year because of Florence, he said the $2.1 million UWCFA has raised is still not enough. Again, he said the main challenge comes from the short memories of potential funders. He said some of the grants UWCFA had already secured were rededicated to victims of Hurricane Michael, which hit Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas only weeks after Florence. 

“People respond to what’s in their face at the time,” Taylor said. “Three years from now … we’ll still be working on houses for these folks. It’s just the nature of it another storm will hit somewhere else harder.” 

Mark Darrough can be reached at Mark@Localvoicemedia or (970) 413-3815.

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