'It's not enough'

Disaster relief falls short of needs


February 25, 2021

Spradlin rents a one-bedroom, converted garage, paying $900 per month, $150 more than the state provides in relief. Kyle Clayton photo.

As the disaster dust settles, it's clear state and local funding won't be enough to repair property damage, leaving some residents, like 83-year-old Lemmie Spradlin, cut off from their homes. 

 While much of the public eye and effort has been on accessing and retrieving possessions from Beach Road homes, Spradlin's house, less than a mile from Main Street on the corner of Young Road and Mathias Avenue, has grown increasingly dilapidated as mold and water damage continue to degrade the structure. 

 A concerned neighbor made a video last week of the damage to the home that shows a water pump, installed by Chilkoot Indian Association staff just after the disaster to pump the floodwaters, frozen beneath six to eight inches of ice. Mold and ice covers large swaths of the walls in the home's basement.   

 "That's mold on the walls, mold on the walls here. This is all an iceberg. That's gotta be about six inches of water, frozen, deeper over there," the neighbor said in a video that circulated among residents and borough officials this week. "She needs help for sure."

 At 83 years old, Spradlin, independent to the point of stubbornness, spent two months living in a small room at the Captain's Choice. The neighbor told the CVN that water continues to leak inside her basement.

 "Any time there's snow and it melts, she has water coming into her foundation. She doesn't have a way of stopping it unless someone with heavy equipment digs a trench around her foundation to divert the water," he said. "I think people just forgot about Lemmie. Nothing seems to have changed."

 After the initial flooding, access to the home was difficult because rubble and debris blocked the door. Chilkoot Indian Asscociation preformed the initial damage assessment by climbing through a window, Southeast Alaska Independent Living program manager Sierra Jimenez said.

Local organizations and the Red Cross worked together to make sure Spradlin's immediate needs were met including safe temporary housing

The flooding also upended Spradlin's heating oil tank. She can't heat her home until her tank and fuel lines are repaired, but so far, that's yet to happen. Delta Western sent her a letter on Jan. 12 informing her that they were unable to deliver heating fuel to her tank because it was damaged. 

 "Please notify us when your tank has been repaired and fuel line inspected for leaks," the Jan. 12 letter states.  

 "I didn't know my oil tank was in that bad of shape," Spradlin said. "They're not bringing me a drop of oil until that's straightened up."

 CIA initially inspected her home and found roughly $65,000 in damages, Jimenez said. "But that was at the very beginning. But with the frozen pipes, and mold and rot, that number is only growing, daily." 

Spradlin, who lives off social security and other government assistance, said she can't afford home insurance. Last week, she received an $18,000 check from the state for home reconstruction costs. Because the state's and FEMA's preliminary damage assessment for Haines didn't find enough damage to qualify residents to receive individual assistance from the federal government, it's the most she, or anyone else in Haines with major damage to their property, will get in the form of government relief. 

 Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency Liaison John Ramsey said relief funding from the state and FEMA doesn't cover costs. "Quite often it's usually enough to get people up and running, but it's not enough to get back to normal," Ramsey said.

 To complicate matters, Spradlin has long been convinced, even before the floods and landslides, that her neighbors are stealing from her, although police haven't found any evidence of theft. On Monday, she was on the phone with a Juneau security company because she wanted to buy a security system to protect her home from "thieves and looters." 

 Spradlin also refuses to go ahead with repairs because she wants her home moved to a different location on her property and set on pilings. When asked what steps she plans to take to begin rebuilding her home, she said the first thing she needs to do is write a letter to the borough holding it responsible.  

 "I hold the borough responsible for the shape my house is in. I don't have anything along the road for protection. There was nothing to stop the water," Spradlin said. "It just came right over like I had issued it a formal invitation. I just want my house up and completely out of it. Everybody wants to dig down. I said 'No, I want it up. I want my house on pilings.'" 

It's inaccurate to say people have forgotten about Spradlin. Southeast Alaska Independent Living staff have helped her search for housing and helped her with various relief applications. Church volunteers check in and dispose of her trash and others have explained to her the state of her home. But it's obvious that she's overwhelmed and confused about how to move forward. And there's no way state and local relief can repair her home, or others that were badly damaged.

 "Everybody's aware of her situation and trying to help her, but ultimately she makes her own decisions," Jimenez said. "It's her choice. It's her money. We can do our best to guide her and help her but, ultimately, she makes her own decisions. She wants to move back in her house and the funding is not available to help her. $18,000, it's not going to touch it."

"It does really test you, mentally," Spradlin said of her situation. "I can't move into my house. I can't even get any oil. And what's it going to do? I'm floating. People reach out and grab me and pull me over here and pull me there. I'm just kind of in a floating mode." 

 SAIL tried to help Spradlin find housing, which was a long effort and why she spent two months at the Captain's Choice. Her late husband was a veteran, but the Veteran's Village declined her application for an apartment and most rentals were occupied. Two weeks ago, Spradlin finally found her own housing after posting an ad at Howsers. She now lives in a tiny, one-bedroom converted garage with a concrete floor on Comstock Road that costs her $900 a month, roughly $150 more than the State of Alaska is providing for rental assistance, which is $756 for a one-bedroom house or apartment. 

 "This gap in funding is a big deal," Jimenez said. "There are a lot of people experiencing the gap in funding for what the state will pay and what the actual costs of rentals are in Haines." 

 That gap is being covered by the donations that poured into Haines after the Dec. 2 storms. Roughly half a million dollars are now being managed by a handful of local organizations including SAIL, the Salvation Army, Chilkat Valley Community Foundation and various churches, representatives of which have formed the Long Term Recovery Group. Between state relief and donations, according to the group's volunteers, there won't be enough funding to repair the damage that the floods and landslides caused. 

 "This is why it is a disaster," recovery group chairperson Sara Chapell said. "The state told us in the beginning that their program is not designed to make people whole. I don't think any of us realized the extent of what that meant."

 This week, when Chapell heard about Spradlin's $18,000 check, she asked volunteers when the money for her reconstruction would come. "They said, 'That is the construction amount.' My jaw fell to the ground."

 Nine residents have reported major damage to their homes and five reported that their homes were completely destroyed. 

 "At face value if we say nine homes were major and five were destroyed and those were the 14 hardest hit in Haines, if we took the rest and divided it up, each person would get $25,000," Matt Jones, relief group member and pastor of the Chilkoot Bible Church, said of local donations. 

 The state has received applications from 65 Haines residents who say they need some form of financial relief. As of Wednesday, the state had dispersed $54,903 in housing assistance payments and $20,442 in temporary housing assistance payments to Haines residents, Jones said. 

 The Salvation Army has distributed $150,000 of its $388,000 disaster relief fund (approximately $210,000 of which came from GoFundMe donations). The Chilkat Valley Community Foundation received $125,000 in donations and has distributed, in total, $33,000 to SAIL for direct relief to individuals. The ministerial association and other local churches raised $30,000 and has only $5,000 remaining. Of the roughly $585,000 in relief available to the community, (including state funding and donations) $303,000 has been spent.

 Much of that money has gone toward covering the gap in rental costs for displaced residents, utilities, gift cards for food and clothing and vehicle rentals. SAIL is using the $30,000 to disperse individual grants. Only three people have applied for a total of $6,000 given out, Jimenez said.

 "As much as it seems like a lot of money came into Haines for disaster relief, it just isn't going to go that far," Jones said. "There's just not enough. I don't know what to say." 

 Chapell said it's going to fall to volunteers and the community to make it whole again. 

 "I had hoped that the most damaged homes would be getting significant resources through the state of Alaska. If that's not happening, as a community, we have a very, very big job ahead of us. It's not going to be as simple as writing a check."

 Both Jones and Chapell said they're trying to save the remaining funds for future costs, such as dump fees associated with cleanup efforts that will likely come this spring, along with reconstruction costs. 

 "That's why the Salvation Army is sitting on some of that money, until the dust settles a little bit more so they can see the impact. Are we going to replace a laptop or sheetrock to fix Lemmie's house? There's no great answer," Jones said. "I wrestle with the idea of, 'gosh the money's there.' You can divide it amongst the people, but that oversimplifies it."

Chapell said the recovery group is in the dark about the state's assessment of damages. They don't know how much the state will eventually disperse to residents. 

"Once the state assistance is determined, it will be up to the Long Term Recovery Group, and the wider community, to assess the unmet needs and build plans to help as many people as possible," Chapell said. "We expect that as our group becomes formalized we will get a process in place for the case management committee to work directly with the State to gain a better understanding of what families need."

 Group volunteers and staff are receiving case management training this week from a disaster relief nonprofit.

 It's unclear how much CIA will have available. CIA administrator Harriett Brouilette was unavailable for comment by press time. 

Financial relief applications and contact information can be found at hainesak.com/longerm-assistance.com

 In the meantime, residents like Spradlin continue to wait. 

 "I'm living like a poverty-stricken widow, which I am, and trying to save every penny I can and stretch it as far as I can," Spradlin said. "I don't know what else to do. You either have the money for something or you don't."

 *Spradlin signed a release of information with SAIL for this story, allowing Jimenez to speak about her case. 


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