Held on Monday, August 22, 2016, the “Louisiana Floods: How Can Funders Help?” webinar addressed the current situation and overwhelming recovery needs one week after devastating Gulf Coast flooding displaced tens of thousands residents, destroyed thousands of businesses, churches, and nonprofits, and crippled communities across the state of Louisiana.

Hosted by the Council on Foundations and the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), the webinar was moderated by CDP President and CEO Bob Ottenhoff and included panelists:

  • Lori J. Bertman, Center for Disaster Philanthropy Board Chair and President, and CEO of the Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation
  • Denise Morgan Gilliam, Philanthropic Advisor, Voluntary Agency Coordination Section, FEMA Individual Assistance Division
  • Jessica Vermilyea, State Director, Lutheran Social Services Disaster Response

Watch the “Louisiana Floods: How Can Funders Help?: webinar to learn more about recovery challenges and opportunities.

Webinar Summary

Since federal and state government aid won’t be enough to meet unprecedented recovery needs, panelists focused on how charitable contributions must fill the tremendous support gap. Highlights from the discussion are captured in the answers to these three important questions:

1. What is the current status of relief and recovery?
Only one week after one of the largest U.S. disasters since Hurricane Sandy, the relief and recovery efforts are still in the very early stages as officials assess the situation and adjust the response.

As of August 21, more than 106,000 individuals and households have registered for FEMA assistance; more than $55 million has been approved to help with temporary rental assistance, essential home repairs, and other serious disaster-related requests; and more than 25,000 National Flood Insurance policyholders have submitted claims. And these numbers are likely to grow. With 2,000 personnel on the ground and the possible deployment of an additional staff, FEMA has a huge presence in Louisiana. For ongoing FEMA updates, please see FEMA>Louisiana.

There are three shelters with more than 3,000 occupants and a huge shortage of housing options. There are currently more than 4,000 households registered on Crisis Cleanup to have their homes cleaned through a volunteer network.

The disaster also hit area nonprofits hard, further complicating the delivery of important services by organizations communities rely on for support. A Salvation Army facility, food banks, and numerous churches have been damaged or destroyed, leaving a huge gap in the social service infrastructure. Without these facilities, there’s nowhere to house thousands of volunteers and warehouse aid resources. Staff who work for these organizations are also dealing with their own losses.

2. What should funders be doing now to help flood recovery?
One of the greatest challenges is housing. With so much property damage across almost one-third of Louisiana’s state parishes, housing options are scarce. But the more quickly people get into a more permanent housing situation, the faster they can recover. Organizations are looking for creative short-term housing and home repair options.

One approach being explored is a possible ‘shelter at home’ effort that would allow residents to stay in their homes while repairs are being done. The work would need to happen quickly, but with the current demands, finding available contractors is difficult. Organizations are seeking retired contractors or skilled volunteers to assist with home repairs and funders to provide materials support.

There’s also a significant and increasing demand for volunteers to help with home cleanup efforts. Volunteer and donor fatigue is already high after spring floods, and new human and monetary resources are lacking. Specific donations are being sought for cleaning supplies, personal protective equipment, and chemicals to treat mold.

Already traumatized from past disasters, many flood victims need mental health support. Mental health issues cause significant disability and interfere with a person’s daily life, work, physical health, and relationships, which in turn impacts social and economic development. In the context of true disaster recovery programs, mental health services are a good investment for funders.

Panelists did point out that they don’t need in-kind gifts that haven’t been specifically requested. Anyone interested in making donations of materials are asked to coordinate their giving with organizations like Good360, for example.

3. What does the long-term recovery picture look like?

Since organizations are still assessing the overall impact, it will take time to determine specific, long-term recovery efforts. Possible initiatives could include housing, mitigation, relocation, and economic development initiatives.

To begin addressing those issues now, funders should look at making smart investments in communities. It will also be important to consider collaborative funding efforts that bring private and public philanthropy, state and federal government, and nongovernmental organizations together to work proactively. There’s an opportunity to make decisions collectively and leverage all available resources to rebuild and rethink a more resilient Louisiana.

For mid- to long-term recovery, funders should consider the CDP’s Gulf Coast Resilience and Innovation Fund. This fund was established on the tenth anniversary of Katrina with the goals of helping communities better plan and prepare for disasters, supporting those working with vulnerable populations, and identifying innovative, replicable, and sustainable solutions.