Joplin service groups still facing huge demand

Friday, February 24, 2012 | 11:20 a.m. CST

JOPLIN — The United Way of Southwest Missouri & Southeast Kansas is facing a significant shortfall in funds available for service agencies in the Joplin area. The agencies are scrambling to meet increased demand arising from the deadly May 22 tornado, despite a successful fundraising campaign.

The organization raised nearly $1.3 million in its last campaign but has a deficit of more than $864,000 in requested allocations, $600,000 as a direct result of the tornado, Valerie Searcy, director of marketing, told The Joplin Globe.

"We still have that much of a need for our partner agencies," Searcy said Thursday.

She said service agencies addressing nearly every aspect of life have increased efforts to help storm survivors since the tornado destroyed thousands of structures and claimed 161 lives.

One area hit hard by a loss of services was child care. Immediately after the tornado, the Joplin Family Y provided free child care while parents looked for new homes or new jobs.

The effort recently prompted the Family Y to start a project that will provide services from 20 health and social agencies in a centralized location, said Kimberly Gray, development director for the Family Y. The agencies will work out of the Officer Jeff Taylor Memorial Park, which the Federal Emergency Management Agency established near the airport.

"The whole spectrum of services will be offered to help people get reintegrated," Gray said. This includes the move from temporary housing into more permanent living arrangements. "The goal is to help people get back on their feet in a better way than before the tornado."

She said the services are offered to everyone, not just those who live in the FEMA mobile home parks.

Pam Roychaudhury, a staff attorney at Legal Aid, also saw increased demand in her work. She said the United Way funds Legal Aid's Voices in Court program, which provides free legal representation to victims of domestic violence and abuse when they seek orders of protection.

In 2010, the agency represented 125 clients and 75 secondary victims, usually children or dependent family members. Since the tornado, her caseload has risen by 45 primary victims and 68 secondary victims, Roychaudhury said.

She attributed the increase to stress, financial burdens and a lack of places to live after the storm.

"Many times we find they have other problems, such as a loss of housing, or problems with Social Security or Medicaid" that complicate their situations, said Janice Franklin, the agency's managing attorney.

Lafayette House, which provides shelter for abuse victims, also has seen an increase in need, said Louise Secker, director of community services, particularly in the length of time people stay at the house.

Residency time has increased to 35 days from the average of about three weeks before the tornado.

"People are more likely to be on a waiting list for housing than they were before the tornado," Secker said.

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