Months after the flood, disaster case managers help community recover

Almost six months have passed since two dams on the Tittabawassee River system were breached, resulting in significant damage to thousands of properties in Midland and Gladwin counties. As winter approaches, many of those property owners are still in need as they try to put their homes and their lives back together.

 

Raegan Schultz is one of four disaster case managers in Midland County working to help those individuals and families. There are two other case managers in Gladwin County. They’ve found that the primary needs are temporary housing, clothing, construction contractors, and help to appeal denials made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for financial support. Some are looking for help to connect to City water if their wells have run dry.

 

Schultz says they first ask their clients, “What does recovery look like for you?” They then determine what steps need to be taken to achieve those goals.

 

Many of their clients are senior citizens. Schultz says, “That’s because they are financially strapped, maybe not physically able, and are less connected (in terms of social media and technology).”

 

Other clients include single parents who have a lot to manage in addition to the challenges COVID-19 has created with their children’s education — and people with disabilities, both cognitive and physical.

 

“We try to prioritize getting people temporary housing or getting their homes repaired so they can move back into them,” says Schultz.
 

Primary needs are temporary housing, clothing, construction contractors, and help to appeal denials made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for financial support.

She and her fellow case managers are from the Great Lakes Bay region. They were hired on July 20 by the United Methodist Committee on Relief. At that point, they committed to working in these positions for one year but that could be extended if there’s still a need. Their positions are financially supported by United Way, the Midland Area Community Foundation, and the Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church. The case managers are also working with several other non-profits in the community.

 

Schultz is currently handling 20 cases and is closing four others. As a group, the case managers have supported 85 clients and screened another 270 flood survivors. She says not everyone needs a case manager — sometimes the situation requires just a phone call, providing information or a referral. One example is a parent who called saying their kids were “distraught” in the aftermath of the disaster. Schultz connected them to Community Mental Health for counseling.

 

For financial help, the case managers first look at what resources a client has including support from FEMA, Small Business Administration loans, and what they have personally.

 

“If they don’t have the resources, we can make ‘asks’ to local funding sources,” says Schultz. For example, there are programs to provide new furnaces. The caseworkers are also working with Habitat for Humanity to identify home repair projects.

 
"We want their home to be safe for winter,” says Schultz. Another project has been two home appliance sales held at the Midland Mall in cooperation with Whirlpool. They sent out notices to nearly 5,000 property owners impacted by the disaster. Many were eligible for additional discounts at the sale.
 

The case managers also have a long-term goal.

 

“Our work is meant to empower flood survivors,” says Schultz. “We’re looking at people who have lost so much overnight. They have this scarcity mentality; they want to get back everything they lost. We try to flip that mentality to focus on what they need.”

 

If you need help or know someone who does, call the Long-Term Disaster Recovery Group at 989-374-8000. They promise to respond within 48 hours.

Read more articles by Ron Beacom.

Ron Beacom is a communications professional and managing editor of Catalyst Midland. He's currently a freelance writer for the Midland Daily News and the producer/host of "Second Act: Life at 50 Plus" for WDCQ-Delta College Public Media (PBS). He was the co-producer on the WDCQ documentary "Breached! The Tittabawassee River Disaster."
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