FEMA checks received by homeless people
|By Cary Vogrin, The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
- A 61-year-old who says he was staying along the banks of
- A 42-year-old who says his tents in
- A trio of men who showed up at a
The paydays are both stunning and disappointing to some who work with the region's homeless, including the head of Westside Cares, who said the issue wasn't on his radar until the mail came one day and a man opened a check in front of him. Westside Cares said up to a dozen checks have been mailed to its offices.
"I've got some of the most compassionate people on staff, and no one is happy with this," said
Brown also is somewhat conflicted about his agency's role in how funds were obtained. Several homeless people told The Gazette they asked local social service agencies to write simple letters -- just a few sentences -- vouching for their living situations.
The head of
"Any information we did provide at the client's request really would have included basic information on the fact that we were serving them or some of the types of services received, as well as where they were living if we knew that information," said CEO
Applicants also supplied
"They were extremely nice; they were extremely human to you," said one 50-year-old woman who said a
Word of the
The 61-year-old who says he lost everything to the rising and turbulent waters of
"I'm like 'Wow! Oh man, I wasn't expecting that much. I know I need glasses, but am I looking at this right? I'm not going to squander it," said
Levesque, who said he has been homeless on and off for several years, received his check
"I never had a better night's sleep. This is the most content I've felt in six years," he said a day after he received his check, as he and two friends sat in the warmth of a cramped motel room on
As of Wednesday,
When questioned by The Gazette about some of the payouts,
Agency guidelines allow money to go to people in "non-traditional housing" who are impacted by a disaster -- including those living in tents or teepees, said
"Some people live in lean-tos. That's their structure. It does not make them homeless -- it is just how their living condition is, how they want to live," Chamberlain said.
"You're using your definition of homeless," Chamberlain said when told of several situations in which homeless people in
It's that definition that apparently led to a paycheck for some, although Chamberlain said the agency will investigate cases in which they believe fraud may have occurred and try to recoup the money.
Much of the money in question, though, is likely spent.
"I said I need a letter saying I'm homeless and lived in the national forest," Collins recalled last week as he and his dog, Jake, were heading into America
Collins' money went to a bike he bought at a thrift store, a bike trailer and warm coat he got at
And he spent some of it on a few nights in a motel. None went to booze, he said. He's not a drinker.
"It's all gone," he said of the money. "I know if I had gotten a little more, I wouldn't be on the street. I'd get an apartment or a vehicle."
For now, he and Jake are sleeping in the bed of a friend's pickup.
But he questions
"I feel for them being on the street, but I think there's got to be a common sense factor, too," McCormack said. "The government should be responsible to the taxpayers on where it's spent and how it's being spent."
McCormack uses this analogy: "My whole opinion is if you had to make a claim on your homeowners insurance, they make you jump through hoops to prove what you had and the value of it. I think it's good intentions, but I don't know that it's done appropriately. If your house gets robbed and a Picasso is stolen, you are going to have prove you had that Picasso. "
"I don't begrudge these individuals assistance, but I think the government is derelict in being discerning how they mete out these funds. The way it is done is absurd," Holmes said. "Those of us who work with individuals with substance problems realize the first chunk of money will go to secure a warm space for them to hang out and the second chunk will go to alcohol and drugs.
"There's so much potential for government assistance to do good and positive things for individuals and then when something absurd like this happens, it tears down all the good programs that exist within the government," he added.
Brown, the head of Westside Cares, said the agency does not offer cash assistance directly to people. It sometimes provides rental assistance, which goes directly to the landlord.
"The reason we never put cash in hands is because cash or cash equivalents can be used for things that we wouldn't want them to be used for," he said.
The reaction of Rohlena, the
"I don't know whether to be surprised or not. I would hope there would be due diligence. I don't know what
Those who received funds say they deserve it as much as anyone else who suffered in the floods.
"I ain't no thief," Levesque said indignantly when asked about his money.
Levesque recalled returning to his camp on a rainy day in mid-September after shopping at
"I had no sleeping bag, nothing. Just the clothes on my back."
He said he also lost two down sleeping bags, a backpack and mountaineering boots, among other belongings and slept outdoors for a few weeks with no cover. "We went to
A friend told him about the
Soon after, a check came to his mailing address at Westside Cares. He recalls the advice he received there: "Don't blow it. Be smart about it."
"So I opened an account with
One of them,
Soete said he and some other friends were farther west on
"We weren't expecting much," he said.
Levesque, who goes by "
Thompson, who has been homeless for about four months and once owned the popular
"I think it could be honest criticism," she said. People are opportunistic, she said. Maybe lied about their situation. But she strongly feels her friends deserve and need the money -- mostly because of the help she has received from them.
"The only thing I want to do is honor homeless people because they are the people who kept me safe," she said of her time living along
Thompson said her situation on the creek was real, and she was truthful with
"I really was there. I really lost all my stuff." she said Saturday from yet another motel room on
Levesque, a grandfather of two with a third on the way, said last week he hoped to have an apartment soon, and pointed to some cottages he was eyeing on
"I want a stable home," he said. "We've got a chance."
(c)2013 The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
Visit The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) at www.gazette.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services