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Post-Fiona regional supports still in place

Canadian Red Cross staff are currently working at St. Christopher’s Hotel to help displaced residents. – © Canadian Red Cross

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter – with files from René J. Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES — Not long after post-tropical depression Fiona left the Southwest coast reeling, the provincial government announced a relief package to help with interim costs, to be administered by the Canadian Red Cross.

For this particular financial assistance program, if a household was displaced, but was back in their home by Sept. 30, they are eligible for $1,000, and if they remain displaced after that date, they are eligible for $10,000. While the assistance is appreciated, some residents were left confused and frustrated due to the lack of communication about how to get access to the funds.

On Wednesday, Oct. 12, residents queued at the Red Cross assessment centre at St. Christopher’s Hotel, and several stated that before it was reported online, they were unaware they had to present themselves in person with photo identification to have their claim verified, having assumed that the online and phone call registration would suffice. David Harvey with the Salvation Army said he didn’t know it either.

“I was not aware of that. The only thing I knew is what had come out initially, that folks fill out their paperwork, call the Red Cross to get your name in there, and that was it. That’s where we all were,” said Harvey. “That’s obviously an oversight on someone’s part, to ensure that all individuals have access to that need.”

Dan Bedell, Atlantic Communications Director for the Canadian Red Cross, said getting access to the financial assistance is a process.

“The steps in the process are we initially ask people to call the toll-free number or to go online at redcross.ca/hurricanefiona and they can register there online or by phone, and registration is very simple. It’s basically just providing their name, their address, phone number, and ideally an email address, and they can explain in a sentence or so the kind of impacts they experienced,” said Bedell. “We are dealing with similar things in five provinces ultimately. Those heavy impacts are across all of Prince Edward Island – the entire province – plus in Eastern Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island.”

Each province that was impacted by Fiona has a completely different funding package than the other.

“Everybody from all of those areas is asked, if you were impacted in any way, go online and register with the Red Cross. That really was an initial step to start getting people into our system. We did that knowing there would be requests coming at the time from the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, but also from the provincial governments of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to administer the financial assistance program,” explained Bedell. “Each one is different. The one in Nova Scotia is just a flat amount of $1,000 and there are specific criteria around that. The one in Newfoundland and Labrador is the two amounts and there are some specific criteria with that, and in Prince Edward Island it’s a much smaller amount. It’s only $250 there, but the PEI government said anybody who registers with the Red Cross and self-identifies as having been impacted by Fiona was eligible, so that number is thousands higher because it is almost every household in the entire province.”

Bedell said in Newfoundland and Labrador there were 947 households registered with the Red Cross.

“The request was there would be only one registration per household. The household could be one person, it could be a family of five, but only one person from that specific address because in our system, if more than one registration comes in showing the exact same civic address or using the same email address, or the same phone number or name, right away the system is going find them as possibly a duplication or something that needs further verification,” explained Bedell. “At 947 households registered with us from Newfoundland and Labrador, that represents 1,755 people. Obviously those are primarily in Port aux Basques and in the surrounding areas that were the most heavily impacted; 582 have been authenticated which means we have confirmed, with photo ID, their registration. Those who can do that online or by the toll-free number and have the means, for example, to do a Zoom call so we can see them, talk to them, and they can show their ID, some of it’s being done that way, but that’s clearly not the case for everyone. Not everyone has a computer. Not everyone uses mobile devices. People are out of their homes and may not have their own normal internet and Wi-Fi access and computer, so we need to accommodate all of those various scenarios.”

Bedell said some households have already received their funds.

“Our preference, if we can, is to do it by e-transfer directly into their bank account. We can’t do that for $10,000 amounts. There are limits on those e-transfers, so that’s why, in this particular area, where they’re mostly within an hour’s drive or so of where we’re set up in Port aux Basques, we just felt it was probably easier for most to see us in person and go through the authentication step in person. It has to be done because we are doing this on behalf of the provincial government. We do need to verify that the people who’ve submitted their application online, by phone, or in person, can show identification that they are who they say they are, and their residence was in the impacted area,” said Bedell. “If they can’t do it online, the only other practical option is in-person, and for those larger payments, the $10,000 amounts, they will need to have one of two things done: It can be preloaded onto a prepaid MasterCard, but in other cases people would want to just have a cheque. That takes a little bit longer because it has to go to our processing centre and it has to be printed, issued, and mailed.”

Bedell said he understands the frustration people may be feeling.

“When we are asking people to show up in-person, it is for one of two reasons. It’s either to complete that authentication by showing government issued identification, preferably a photo ID, and the other reason is to receive that payment in person.”

For individuals who no longer have access to a photo ID, there are other ways to authenticate.

“Technically, with government programs – and I would have to check and see what the government of Newfoundland and Labrador has authorized – but you run into this, and sometimes people have a passport and that is certainly an acceptable piece of photo ID, but that doesn’t show your home address. So it might be that and a recent utility bill, something that shows their name and their civic address, any official correspondence they’ve received, even if they can show it on their phone.”

Bedell said the Red Cross is trying to be as accommodating as possible, especially considering many smaller communities don’t have the same mobile service, internet access, and access to mobile banking as more urban centres.

For individuals without access to a vehicle or transportation to Port aux Basques for in-person authentication, Bedell says they are working on assistance for them as well.

“The other thing we are looking at – aside from having these physical operations that people can go to – we are in the process of assembling a mobile team who will make arrangements to go to these smaller communities, and if there is a facility there – typically it might be a fire hall or a community recreation centre or some community organizations facility where it’s easy for people to reach us – they can come down to us in their own communities in person. That’s something in the process of being organized.”

Bedell said these two lump sums are not the only way in which the Red Cross is helping.

“We have identified, in partnership with the municipality and other civic leaders, that some people are in real hardship financially, just needing all of these expenses they never dreamed of having to face. In cases like that we are assisting them in the same way that we would help people, for example, in a house fire.”

Other organizations are also working to assist displaced residents, including the local Salvation Army. David Harvey said the number of those availing of the supports has dropped significantly.

“It’s really slowed down. It’s taken a dive in people coming in. Initially – for the first five, six or seven days – where 300 to 400 individuals were being served, it basically dropped down to a hundred and something and now it’s down to about 60 to 80,” said Harvey. “We’re taking them in the morning for breakfast. We do meals, of course, at lunchtime, and supper as well.”

At least one family in Diamond Cove was unaware of supports available, but Harvey said they would have had some assistance by now.

“I think they got all the things they required. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that we sent down –between us and the Lions Club and all that – I think 30 totes to families. There were dishes that we had bought for them, brand new stuff that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.”

Harvey said he personally didn’t go down to check on the families because that isn’t something he and his organization are privy to.

“I wouldn’t have access to go down there and check out their homes. That would’ve obviously been, I’m assuming, the community, the Red Cross, the individuals here who are going down and checking out homes. I’m assuming that’s who would’ve done that, but that’s not something I am privy to because I’m not part of that circle.”

Harvey admits he worries that some in need may have been inadvertently missed.

“Someone came by this morning and said, ‘Look, we are back in our home, and we have nothing left in our cupboards. What can you do?’ There you go. That’s a gift card. I have the authority to spend the money and get that working, so that’s part of it. Never saw the individual before, but he knew he could access the funds that we had, and he did it and we looked after him,” explained Harvey. “We hope there aren’t others who are being missed. I keep asking the question, especially at the hotels, are there those that need the service? Are there those that need meals dropped off? I know that’s a bit of a conundrum because you only get so much, you can only have so much, and you can’t get a lot of stuff in your room. “

Harvey said that the Salvation Army doesn’t have a list of all the people who have been displaced and where they currently staying, which can make things more difficult to track.

“I’m assuming the Red Cross is (keeping track). From what we understand, they’re the ones who would have all the information on all the folks who have been displaced, if they are in hotels or on private properties.”

Harvey said the communication between the Red Cross and the Salvation Army isn’t something that is done daily.

“We do not, and that probably is both of our faults. I know they are here all the time. We provide meals for them lunchtime, but that’s someone just comes to pick up the meals, and I don’t ask a lot of questions when we are in public because I don’t want other people to hear the conversations that go on.”

Overall, Harvey believes efforts are going well, despite some of the hiccups, especially considering the magnitude of the devastation.

“That’s what our MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) says we’re supposed to do – help those who are displaced, help those in shelters, help the Red Cross folks who come get a meal, so that’s what’s happening.”

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