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Frustration over Fiona funds

Donation committee’s needs assessment plan upsets affected families

Above: Water Street East during Hurricane Fiona on Sept. 24, 2022.– © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Inc.

By Jaymie L. White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — Seven months after Hurricane Fiona, some residents are still waiting for financial assistance. While the Red Cross and the provincial government teamed up to offer assistance, donations sent directly to the Town of Channel-Port aux Basques into a separate fund earmarked for those affected have yet to be distributed. A Fiona Donations Committee was created, and it consists of eight members. After volunteering to co-ordinate relief efforts, Edwina Bateman was hired as an independent contractor to oversee the process of a Donations Management Plan, and is the owner of Avail HR Services. Dan Sheaves is a Certified Professional Accountant, Chair of the CBDC Gateway Board and current Chair of Atlantic Edge Credit Union. Steven Hynes is the Emergency Disaster Services Director for the Salvation Army. Erle Barrett is a Member of Lions Club International and a Councillor with the Town of Kippens. Linda Thorne is the Town Clerk for the town of Burnt Islands and an active firefighter with the Community Fire Department. Lori Ann Companion is the province’s Executive Lead, responsible for the Hurricane Fiona Disaster Response and a retired NL Deputy Minister. Barb Collier is representing displaced residents affected by Fiona. Her home of 69 years washed away during the hurricane. Nadine Osmond is the Town Clerk for Port aux Basques, Secretary of the Port aux Basques and Area Chamber of Commerce and President of the Southwest Coast Historical Society. On Wednesday, Apr. 12, in an update posted to the Town’s Facebook page, the committee announced a process to distribute the money, and that a Needs Assessment Application (NAA) would first have to be filled out for residents to identify specific needs they have, which were not already covered by other financial assistance programs offered since Fiona. The committee said they anticipate the application will be completed in early May. In response to email inquiries, Bateman stated the following: “There is no additional information to provide at this time, as the Committee is still working through the process. When everything is finalized, more details will be provided,” wrote Bateman. “This is a very complicated process, and it would be premature to offer any information other than what has been made public so far.” The amount of money that is in the Fiona donations fund has yet to be divulged, as well as the type of information that will be requested as part of the needs assessment. The announcement was not well received on social media. Fiona families and supporters were quick to point out that the money actually belongs to those most affected, and questioned the committee arbitrarily applying a process asking displaced families to justify getting a share, which may vary depending on the still unknown criteria. Graham MacDonald lost his home and his garage in the storm. It’s all scheduled for demolition, and he hasn’t seen any financial assistance since the initial $10,000 distributed to displaced families, and the money provided for emergency living arrangements through the Red Cross. “It’s difficult, especially for my daughter. My daughter is 16-years-old and she lost everything,” said MacDonald. “I did my basement over for her bedroom, so she got out with the clothes on her back and that was it. She’s still upset over it. She doesn’t like the wind anymore. She doesn’t like the water. I’m on the fire department, and going around a couple of days after Fiona, I can’t even explain it. It was crazy. Mouse Island still has one side of the street that is totally gone. One house is left standing, and down East End Channel, one side of the street is gone and in the coming weeks, my street, anything that was close to the shoreline is getting demolished.” Waiting so long for assistance has caused a great deal of stress. “It’s a financial strain on me. The money is soon running out,” explained MacDonald. “To me, they won’t even tell you what’s there. I don’t think anybody knows except for the committee. It’s not public knowledge, not that I’m aware of. Everybody I speak to says nobody knows what’s there. I’m assuming there is a fair sum of money because there were donations pouring in from everywhere.” MacDonald doesn’t understand why his family must fill out a NAA. “It doesn’t make any sense to me. I know what I’m getting from my home, and the contents were included and the land, stuff like that, and it was more than fair. I’m not going to say it wasn’t fair, because it was, but there is some stuff there that wasn’t covered, and now I’ve got to go to this committee now and put in a written request for this and they’ve got to approve it,” said MacDonald. “You’re reliving the nightmare pretty much, because that’s what that night was. It was a nightmare. It’s like everybody is making you jump through hoops every time you need something.” The mental struggles that come from experiencing Fiona still linger. “I try to go around every day with a smile on my face. I put one on my face, but it’s for looks only,” admitted MacDonald. “I’ve got friends who live away, who say they’ve seen the pictures, and I tell them the photos don’t do it justice. When you go downtown and you see a two-story apartment building floating out in the middle of the road, it just collapsed… it’s crazy. Houses turned upside down, houses in the harbour… it was crazy. The scary thing is now, I always say it’s not if this happens again, it’s when. I know there a couple of families in town now, in a week or so, they’re homeless. There is nowhere for them to go. There’s nothing. My heart goes out to them. You wish you could help them, but you’re trying to help yourself out at the same time.” MacDonald wants to see people receive the help they need because they’ve waited long enough. “This has been since the 23rd of September. Now we are going into May pretty soon. That’s eight months almost. With the government assessment, I knew that wasn’t going to happen overnight. I knew it wasn’t going to happen in a month because it was a big process they had to go through themselves, but this money has been donated by people for those who were misplaced and have nothing. There are families staying with family, and I’m guessing there are places in town where there are two or three families under one roof, and that’s not just in Port aux Basques, that’s all down the coast.” Velda Tapp lost her home during Fiona and was also upset when she read what the Donations Committee required for people to receive any donations. “I don’t know what to think of it. I don’t understand what it’s all about and I really think it’s time they need to answer to us. We don’t need to answer to anybody. We didn’t do anything wrong,” said Tapp. “We are having trouble getting insurance for our houses. Some of us are still living with only the clothes on their back, nothing to move into a new house. Meetings are supposed to be taking place before the end of April, so you wait a few weeks before you get your funding. A lot of the houses are sold now and you couldn’t purchase a home because you didn’t have the money to do it. For the last seven months I’ve basically been camping. I’m going from house to house. We don’t even have a washer or dryer. I thought, when people gave money, they gave out of the goodness of their hearts to help us, but by the time you get around to filling out the forms, they have another meeting, I’d say it will be a year before they decide what to do with the money. So what was the purpose of fundraising then? I don’t understand why it’s such a big racket. We don’t know if there’s $10, $1 million, $2 million. We have no idea, and some of these families could use it right now.” The delay has caused Tapp additional worry and stress. “I purchased a house. I’m waiting for the lawyer to call me back to see if I can get an extension or I could lose my money in the house. How this started, if I was doing this and I was the government, I would’ve taken the people who lost everything, were stood there with the clothes on their back, and helped those people first. To me, that would be the people who are top priority. Some people were in a bad state. Some are still in a bad state.” Tapp said no one truly understands how bad it has been. “People don’t see these stories. They don’t see that there are some of us, from day one, still sitting here. I know it’s coming and we all appreciate everything the government is doing for us, but I am soon going to break. I don’t know how much more I can take of this. I know I work a lot. I work about 115 hours sometimes, every two weeks, and I’m living in this apartment building. I’ve never lived in an apartment building before. It’s very noisy here. I have no washer and dryer. I’ve been dragging clothes around for seven months. I’ve got pots that have no handles on them, no cover or anything. Your dishes are only three or four plates. You have to have a strong mind to deal with something like this.” Tapp said those you would expect to help you in times like this were the ones who didn’t. “You have all these insurance companies who turned their back on us. Then all of a sudden the government is going to help us. If they gave us $10 or $10 million, they didn’t have to do anything. They did not have to step up and help us, but they did, and we are all very thankful for that. Then there are friends and everyone who are donating to help us out, but where did all of that go? I keep going back to the concert Shanneyganock had. They ended up with $1.3 or $1.6 million at the end of the night and the federal government matched it. That’s over $2 million, and some of us have only gotten $7,500 dollars.” Having to list your needs is something Tapp believes is impossible to fully comprehend. “They want us to fill out this application based on our needs. Well what are our needs? Most of us don’t even know what we’re doing from one day to the next. I just go to work. I work every day. Since Fiona I’ve worked every day except two. Other than that I’ve worked every day since August. I come home at the end of the day and I just can’t think about it anymore because I can’t take it. I can’t take all that’s happening. The house I picked out, my time is up the 26th of April. We have been working to get an extension for about a month so I’ll be able to buy that house.” Money doesn’t go as far as it once did because of inflation and the high housing demand. “People think we are all millionaires. They look at the dollar figure, but they don’t understand,” said Tapp. “I renovated my mother’s house last year and it cost me $35,000 to do upstairs and put a new deck on. When it came down to the cost of the deck, it is half the size now as what they took off. The materials are so high, the labour is high, everyone thinks we are rotten rich, but everything has skyrocketed. It’s brutal.” Tapp believes transparency is essential. “The Town, this committee, they should be the ones being contacted. Put your board together, talk to us, tell us how much money you’ve got, your intentions of what you want to do with it, and what is your idea behind why we need to apply. If I worked since I was 12 years old and secretly have $1 million stashed away in my bank account, does it mean I don’t get anything because I worked all my life? Is the working person going to be punished again? What about the senior citizens? I think it’s time for them to say to us, because it’s been seven months that have gone by, how much longer they are going to hold on to that money,” said Tapp. “We don’t know anything that’s going on. We heard there was a committee and at one point they published who the people were, and that was it. I don’t understand anything that goes on in this world anymore. I feel like a lost soul.” Denise Pike Anderson, who also lost her home, would return every cent to get her home back again. “It’s been a long seven months. I was out of town when I read the post, and I thought, again? I don’t understand why we have to justify why we need funds. Everybody thinks we’ve gotten all this money, and we didn’t even get enough to rebuild,” said Pike Anderson. “I’m very blessed we managed to save what we did, but in terms of money, all they gave me was my washer and dryer, my fridge because it was ruined because we were 10 days getting in, and we didn’t even get anything for our bedroom set, our furniture that was downstairs because, according to them, it was all secondary.” Pike Anderson is grateful for what she has received so far, but like others doesn’t appreciate having to jump through so many hoops. “I am very thankful for the government, that somebody stepped in, but now we have to justify again why we need this money? It was donated to the people and I don’t feel that we should have to go through it again. You feel guilty, having our hand out, or that we aren’t deserving of it. I don’t know how else to describe it besides being so disappointed. The rumours that you have all this money, I had to move out of town because I couldn’t get a house in town. I had to go to Cape Ray. That’s not what I moved home for and now we’re uprooted. We bought a house, but it’s not where I wanted, but what else can we do?” Pike Anderson said there’s no silver lining to losing your home. “The prices of houses in town have tripled and doubled and you know in two years it isn’t going to be worth what we paid for it. And for the people who say, ‘oh, you’re so lucky to get to start over, you get to do the house the way you want it’. I had a house the way I wanted it. I would give up every red cent that was ever given to me to get back in my house and just be normal again. I don’t even feel normal anymore because, now that people got their money, everybody is looking at you. You go in to buy things and they say, ‘You’re buying that because you got your money’. No, I’m buying it because I need it.” Pike Anderson didn’t get compensated for a lot of what she lost. “I had a four-bedroom home and because I didn’t lose my main bedroom, I didn’t get paid for my bedroom set. I didn’t get paid for my three-piece couch set, my husband’s chair, tools. We had thousands of dollars in tools we didn’t get a red cent for. I’m keeping tools that are broken because they came from my father-in-law and I can’t give them up, even though they’ll never work again. I know there are people out there who lost absolutely everything, but I can’t replace my kids’ movies. I can’t replace my kids’ stuff that I brought home with me, their first outfits from the hospital, and nobody can give me any amount of money that will. So when I read that, it was like a slap in the face, like you need to know what we were given? I’m not giving my financials to anybody. It’s just that our lives were destroyed in a blink and now, we’re getting judged and have to put it out there, this is what I lost and what are you going to give me for it?” The prospect of starting over is disheartening. “I moved home, bought my house with cash. I owed nobody anything, and then all of a sudden we are starting over again. We worked 25 years away to be able to come home and look after our parents, be here with family, work part time to live your life because we know we’re one day here and the next day gone. Now, the stress and the mental aspect have to be the worst part of this and people don’t understand that,” said Pike Anderson. “I’ve asked my husband, ‘Can we just go and stay one more night’? And he said, “There’s no power, there’s no water, there’s nothing,’ but I just want to go and spend one more night.” Having to reopen wounds that still haven’t healed is something Pike Anderson struggles with. “To have to sit and go through it again, I guess they don’t understand the mental anguish that goes with it, to have to put down everything,” said Pike Anderson. “To have to sit and do that again, I don’t know if I have it in me.” She wonders how this process will look to those who donated specifically to families in this region. “The people who donated, I don’t think they donated it for someone to sit down and judge what we deserve,” said Pike Anderson. “Most of us already feel forgotten about. We need money to get settled. I bought a house that is coming with all the furniture and the first thing I did was say, ‘Listen guys, let me know if there is anything you need’, because I saved my kitchen. There are things I can donate to people. That’s how you help people. You don’t put them down and ask them why they need something. That’s not right.”

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