CCDBR helps thousands of flood victims


By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator 

Adam Dunn’s plans for Thanksgiving are similar to many others. 

 

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Adam Dunn cooks dinner in his new home following the 2016 flood. Dunn, who is disabled, was able to purchase the FEMA trailer through Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

By morning, the palate-energizing aroma of a turkey in the oven would fill his north Baton Rouge home. 

In addition to turkey, Dunn’s holiday feast would include cornbread dressing, made from his grandmother’s recipe.

Before that first bite, Dunn would be certain to bow his head in prayer to give thanks to God, giving thanks that a two-year nightmare beginning with stepping into four feet of water in his bedroom, passing through three evacuation centers and a rundown motel and finally ending with him reaching his dream of home ownership was over. 

“I’m very happy, I’m very grateful,” said Dunn, who, through the help of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge, now owns the manufactured housing unit where he has been living for the past 18 months. “I’ve been through hell.” 

Dunn, who is disabled after suffering a stroke six years ago, was one of hundreds of thousands of area residents whose lives would change forever on Aug. 13, 2016. Shortly after midnight on that fateful morning, police and fire rescue units knocked on the door of his ground floor apartment, evacuating Dunn as the water continued to rise. 

“I thought ‘get your butt out of there,’ ” he recalled. “I walked out in shorts, a t-shirt and a hat. I lost everything.” 

Dunn would spend a combined one week at two different evacuation centers, five weeks in the River Center and seven months at the Alamo Plaza before CCDBR was able to relocate him to the FEMA trailer he now calls home. 

“I am so grateful, grateful to all of the good people at Catholic Charities,” he added. “I thank God every second.”

Dunn is one of the nearly 18,000 area residents CCDBR has helped through its disaster assistance recovery program, originally established following the spring flood of 2016 but that quickly expanded in the wake of the historic August flooding several months later. Combined, the program has assisted 6,443 families in parishes spread throughout the diocese. 

The assistance was made possible through grants obtained by CCDBR as well as funds provided to the agency and such programs as Road Home, and the Small Business Administration. 

Along with those funds another $650,000 went to furniture, appliances and emergency repairs to allow families to return to their homes. There was also another $500,000 through a partnership with the Salvation Army used for the furniture/appliance program. 

Those types of donations helped Dunn move into a trailer that was almost completely furnished. 

CCDBR executive director David Aguillard said his staff originally responded to the March 2016 floods with nine case managers. That number swelled to more than 170 six months later.

Aguillard said CCDBR was originally in the response phrase, distributing more than $1 million worth of goods to families in need. Aguillard admitted that initially CCDBR “could not get to all of the affected areas because a large amount of our staff was impacted.” 

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Adam Dunn visits with C.J. Roy of CCDBR in Dunn’s new home. Dunn lost everything in the Flood of 2016. He went through two evacuation centers and temporary housing at the River Center and Alamo Plaza before getting his home.  

 

He did note that several church parishes adopted affected parishes and provided much-needed assistance in terms of food and other items. 

The agency quickly transitioned into long term recovery mode, providing assistance in a number of areas, including helping families navigate the often confusing matrix of bureaucratic paper work that included understanding FEMA’s rules and regulations and filling out various loan applications. 

Staff members also helped victims find affordable housing and advised clients with renovation estimates, screening of contractors, helping identify experts to complete the job and making sure repairs were adequately completed. In many cases CCDBR was with a family from shortly after the flood until they were resettled or back in their original home. 

Additionally, Catholic Charities provided mental health care not only to families but also to case workers and others working on the front lines in dealing with such challenges as depression and post traumatic stress syndrome. 

“It’s difficult to start over,” Aguillard said. “The fact is some people will never recover; some people can’t get back into affordable housing.” 

Lisa Lee, a CCDBR staff member who played a significant role in the assistance program, said at one point the agency was employing 11 disaster recovery teams, with 10-15 members on each team. Also included were bi-lingual case workers, assisting immigrants, especially those among the burgeoning Hispanic community, that were affected. 

Lee said a $700,000 grant dedicated to immigrants will help continue to serve that population. 

“It’s extra challenging,” Lee said of the recovery, among the immigrant community. 

Another $2.5 CCUSA grant will help with continued disaster assistance for the most vulnerable of the community, including the elderly and disabled.

Aguillard said the disaster recovery program is now in its final stages, operating with only a skeleton staff. He said case workers knew the job was temporary when they started but that the agency is continuing to help those laid off to find new jobs. 

Across town, Dunn was content to sit in the welcomed warmth of his new home, the first he has ever owned, and paid for through the CCDBR assistance program. 

“This is heaven,” he said with a broad smile. “People don’t understand, no matter what color you are, if you’re crippled, you can’t work, you can’t move. 

“I thank God for allowing me to go down the stairs every day to get my mail and come back up the stairs. This is a blessing.”