Hurricane Laura made landfall near Cameron, Louisiana on August 27, 2020 but the impacts of that storm continue to be felt by thousands of families. Two days after landfall, Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services reported that over 6,000 displaced Louisianans were sheltering in hotels dispersed across the state. By September 28, 2020, American Red Cross reported that the number of displaced survivors seeking shelter in hotels in Louisiana had grown to 9,806 and more than 4,000 Louisianans were sheltering in hotels out-of-state.
ACF’s Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response (OHSEPR) leads federal disaster human services case management operations, providing skilled case managers who connect survivors to services to assist them with their individual disaster recovery. Recognizing OHSEPR’s expertise, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued a mission assignment directly to OHSEPR in response to the state’s request for federal support.
OHSEPR worked to identify more than 700 available local resource providers in just four days after accepting the mission assignment. The program office also augmented their emergency response team to include officers from the U.S. Public Health Service and established a free call-in helpline. Fifty case managers still staff the helpline daily from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (CT).
As of December 14, 2020, OHSEPR’s helpline has received more than 10,065 calls from disaster survivors. Case managers have made referrals for housing, clothing, food, transportation, employment, and healthcare access. In some cases, OHSEPR has been a disaster survivor’s last lifeline.
In one case, 2-1-1 transferred a survivor with suicidal ideations. After being assisted by a case manager and repeated contact with the group supervisor, the survivor reported a de-escalation of his despondent thoughts and attributed this change to the case manager’s support. Case managers continued to follow up with the survivor over several weeks and reported, “The last time I talked to him he told me he was doing well and had landed a temporary job clearing tree debris. His employer was giving him a ride since his vehicle is not working, and he has not had despondent thoughts now that he has someone to advocate for him.”
OHSEPR’s helpline has also supported veterans impacted by Hurricane Laura. One such veteran was a 65-year-old disabled man. He and his wife were living out of their vehicle because their home was uninhabitable following the hurricane and the subsequent power outages. The couple used their vehicle’s engine to power the husband’s respirator but, when the engine gave out, the couple did not have funds to repair it. For them, the maze of post-disaster paperwork and processes felt insurmountable. After calling OHSEPR’s helpline, their case manager helped them apply for a low-interest disaster loan from the Small Business Administration and coordinated efforts with a FEMA representative to confirm that the veteran was eligible for financial assistance to repair his vehicle.
A 29-year-old single mother of 4 children, between the ages 3 to 10, had been working at a nursing home in Lake Charles to provide for her children. Following the hurricane, they sheltered in a hotel room. She did not have relatives or a support system to lean on and expressed feeling as if she was coming to the end of the road. “I am used to chaos in my life. I was a child of the system - a foster kid - and by no means have I ever feared being self-sufficient.” Not only was there the challenge of looking for new housing, without anyone to watch her children while she was out. That challenge was only coupled by her concerns for two of her children, who were no longer able to receive occupational therapy and counseling for developmental delays. These challenges weighed heavily on this mother and that’s when she called OHSEPR’s helpline. The case manager on the other end of the line engaged her in relaxation breathing techniques. Once calm, the case manager provided guidance on how to return her children to normalcy after a disaster. The case manager provided the survivor with a referral to the Child Care and Development Fund and to Louisiana’s Department of Children and Family Services to apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits.