Press Release: July 23, 2007
“Hurricane Katrina: Where is the Money? Red Cross Hides donations from survivors” Kirby Sommers
WORD IS OUT! From the moment Kirby Sommers, founder of Katrina Home Drive, posted a copy of the secretive American Red Cross “Means To Recovery” application on their website on July 18, 2007, over 10,000 survivors in NOLA immediately responded by taking to the streets and going to their local Red Cross office.
“Thank God for Jesus! Help at last!” Ingrid Garrett, a Louisiana resident and Katrina survivor who waited for help at the Convention Center declared. One by one individuals and families made their way to get help. Instead, they were greeted with a sign that read “CLOSED.” Since that fateful day, the American Red Cross has been busy with damage control.
Kay Wilkins, director of the local Red Cross, told a WSDU TV reporter who appeared on the scene “there's misinformation about the assistance a family could get through the program. The money is meant as a last resort for people who are barely getting by.”
During the weekend, Katrina Home Drive noticed the American Red Cross added information to their many websites finally showing the terms “Hurricane Recovery Program” also known as “Means to Recovery.” Kirby Sommers says, “This information was never there. We looked for it, we googled it, nothing ever came up.”
Today, if you call the Red Cross at their toll-free 1-866-438-4636 number, you will get a recording claiming all this talk about Means to Recovery is a “rumor.”
So, what is going on?
Kirby Sommers, a volunteer from New York City and Founder of Katrina Home Drive received numerous calls and emails from former Red Cross employees regarding this secretive Means to Recovery money. The calls and emails poured in after Ms. Sommers spoke with Jeanne Ellinport, Red Cross Director of Communications for Hurricane Recovery on May 17, 2007.
Ms. Ellinport described this money as a “tool for case managers,” and made it clear that it [the program] was not public information. It is not to be found on their website, it was not going to be advertised and there was to be no outreach to survivors. (Information about this conversation was posted on Katrina Home Drive’s website on May 17, 2007.)
A Senior Associate for Communications and Marketing for the Red Cross spoke with Ms. Sommers. “I was hired by the American Red Cross for the Hurricane Recovery Program in April 2006. They didn’t want to promote the program. I had an issue with this. I’m a Katrina survivor and how were the people going to get help if no one was going to tell them about it?”
Even more unsettling was a comment Ms. Sommers received from another Red Cross employee. “The program was going to sunset in August 2006. It was set up to help survivors of Katrina, Rita and Wilma. There was $71 million for this program and they were talking about shutting it down even though they hadn’t even given away $1,000,000.”
In an email sent to Ms. Sommers from another Red Cross Disaster Recovery Specialist dated July 18, 2007: “As reiterated these services are not being broadcasted but are available and should be utilized instead of having funding returned or reassigned.”
On July 19, 2007 the Red Cross issued a Press Release: a portion of it is included here.
“The $20,000 that continues to be mentioned is the maximum benefit available through the case management process, not an allocation. The amount distributed per eligible client is based upon the specific needs identified and agreed upon in the recovery plan. It is not a source of emergency cash assistance or long-term income to meet basic needs. The Means to Recovery resource distribution is to provide financial assistance for survivors who need help getting into a home, with occupational needs, or for job-related transportation assistance. More than 53,000 families have received recovery planning help from disaster case managers across the country to date as part of the Katrina Aid Today consortium…If you are interested in the case management process, you will have to be put on a waiting list. We suggest you contact your local Katrina Aid Today agency and ask to be put on their waiting list.”
UMCOR’s Katrina Aid Today nine consortium partners include: Boat People SOS, Catholic Charities USA, Society of St. Vincent De Paul, Lutheran Disaster Response, Episcopal Relief & Development, National Disability Rights Network, Odyssey House of Louisiana, and Volunteers of America.
Many of these agencies have shut down their Hurricane Relief services. Most stopped accepting new applicants. So why would the Red Cross continue to supply misleading information to Katrina survivors across the country?
One source told Ms. Sommers “If they make it difficult enough, like the FEMA program…well just look at the application process…they’re counting on people to give up.”
Give up? Lives have been lost. Hope is the last remaining vestige of humanity for many. “Giving up is not an option. At least not for those of us at Katrina Home Drive,” states Kirby Sommers.
The Red Cross and Katrina Aid Today consortium members have been entrusted with donations meant to help survivors. Over 1.4 million lives were affected. Many people have never heard of either the American Red Cross’ Means to Recovery or Katrina Aid Today case management programs.
“The Red Cross must be held accountable for what amounts to criminal, inhumane and human rights violations against the people affected by Hurricane Katrina. And, when did appropriated Katrina donations include recovery assistance for survivors of Hurricanes Rita and Wilma?” asks Sommers.