Storm victim's quest for help runs her in circles

Gyniek Clay, after seeing her life torn asunder by the May 22 tornado that ripped through North Minneapolis, is singularly unimpressed with the help she isn’t getting from the Northside Community Response Team (NCRT) and other service organizations.

“They haven’t done anything. They’re offering a service to the community, putting it out there when you look on the Internet, what they are going to do. But, when you go in and try to get help, you walk away empty-handed.

“They’re not giving me any help. They just have me going around in a circle.”

Clay was at 3124 Logan Avenue, leading a productive life, taking care of her four-year-old daughter Laniek and their tabby cat “Sassy.” Then the storm hit.

“The lights went out and we heard crashing,” recalls the 34-year-old single mom. “We got on the floor and pulled a futon over us. We were very scared laying there, not knowing if the house was going to cave in and kill us.”

Left homeless, temporarily boarding “Sassy” at an animal shelter, Clay and her daughter were forced to wander from makeshift quarters to makeshift quarters. After hotels, a shelter and two friends’ houses, things finally grew so intolerable that she had little choice but to send Laniek to live with Gyniek’s sister in Chicago.

This left her free to house-hunt and look for financial help, including payment for daycare, without dragging the child along, but “It hurt. Of course, I wanted her right with me. But it was something I had to do.”

Clay has been, from the outset of seeking aid through NCRT, completely frustrated, believing that far from assisting with a solution to the dilemma of rebuilding, the organization in fact has greatly worsened the problem. As of this writing, Clay continues to place unanswered calls. Considering it a waste of time, she still goes through the motions just in case NCRT should happen to come through.

Exasperated, she contacted the MSR, stating, “We [storm victims] are not important. I need to speak about [that]” and detailed an experience that is best described as a wild goose chase in search of any benefit from the thousands upon thousands of dollars that have been donated for the publicly lauded purpose of giving financial relief to tornado victims.

Clay feels she is being systematically stonewalled, her plight exploited. From her viewpoint, instead of people like herself having their suffering eased, funds are stopping on the way through the pipeline to line the pockets of administrators — specifically in the form of paychecks to four full-time “navigators” and their supervisor.

“If you’re following my drift,” Clay attests, “they are paying for the wrong things. They are paying navigators to navigate money for us. We don’t need that. We need the cash. I’m perfectly capable of navigating my own money to restructure my life.

“They give me information, and when I go [where] they tell me to go, they send me back to NCRT. For instance, I was told to call 311. They told me to call NCRT. There’s nothing being done.”

Citing absolutely no support from the organization, she says that, as an example, she came to NCRT seeking help for mental and emotional trauma resulting from living through the storm and “not being sure if it was the end, if we were going to die.” She was referred to NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center.

One profoundly frustrating roadblock, she relates, has been the pursuit of and failure to obtain a useful response from Jerry Moore, director of outreach at the Neighborhood Hub, 3110 Oliver Avenue N. “It’s been ridiculous,” she recalls.

On one visit, while filling out forms to apply, she noticed a caption stating that were she receiving a public assistance subsidy, which she was under Section 8 for housing, it disqualified her from getting help under the program Moore proposed, General Assistance from Hennepin County. “I pointed out that I had already told him when I first came in that I was receiving a subsidy.

“He apologized: ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I’ll have to see what I can do. I’ll look for resources. I’ll get back to you.’ The whole purpose wasn’t to help. It was to fill out paperwork and give advice I didn’t need to go to places everyone already knows about: Emergency Assistance. Red Cross. Salvation Army. [I had] already gone through those steps.”

Reached by telephone to respond to Clay’s complaints, Moore declined to answer questions and referred us to Chanda Baker Smith of Pillsbury United Communities. We were unable to contact Baker Smith prior to publication.

Clay’s concerned question is, “Why do tornado victims need the NCRT, and why aren’t victims receiving the funds that are being used to pay navigators? …I really don’t understand why it’s so hard for me to get actual money.”

Clay ticks off a list of valuables that were either lost or destroyed in the tornado: an entire living room of furniture. Her bedroom. Her child’s bed. Clothing. Television. Stereo. Computer.  Car. Clay asked for help replacing them.

“They’re saying that’s material things.” Material devastation doesn’t count? “Right. They’re saying, ‘Look at it in a good way. You’re living and those things can be replaced. Eventually. With a lifelong goal plan.”

Clay’s feeling is that NCRT should be turning donations around to offer a financial leg up so she can get her life back together, not job counseling. “I know how to get a job. I have worked. I wasn’t put out, evicted. I didn’t have to move because of a lack of responsibility. I had to move because of a crisis.

“But, they look on us as a stereotype. Like, because we’re African American and from the North Side, we were all on welfare.” To the contrary, her résumé, dating to 1997, lists a record of steady, profitable employment, including positions in real estate as a loan officer and as a leasing agent. She was planning to finish studying for her business degree when tragedy struck and the tornado put everything on hold.

To date, what she has to show for three visits to Moore at the Neighborhood Hub is a $20 gas card and a $10 gas card. “I used up [more than half] of that just traveling [to get there].”

Gyniek Clay attests that she is not by herself in getting what she flatly calls “a runaround.” She has encountered fellow tornado victims who’ve had similarly frustrating experiences in seeking relief. “Their complaints and concerns are the exact same as mine.”

Asked if she’s run into anyone who’s actually been satisfied, she says, “No. There may be some people. I haven’t met them.”

Gyniek Clay finally landed a new apartment on her own, a town home in Brooklyn Center where she now lives with Laniek and Sassy. “I [searched by computer] at the library [and] McDonald’s, because they have free Wi-Fi.” She got help with new furniture by going to the Salvation Army.

In July, her unemployment benefits expired. Since then, she has exhausted her savings and, more than ever, needs to see some help come from somewhere. For the time being, as she keeps knocking on the door at NCRT, Gyniek turns to her faith as a Christian.

“I pray. Go to Bible study at Spiritual Life Church. Standing on the Word, in the scriptures at Proverbs. Psalms.” She readily states, “God carried me.  He gave me my strength in believing that all things are possible through Christ. The strength to walk by faith and not by sight.”

She also has gone to Hennepin County’s offices and applied for public assistance.

“My biggest question to NCRT,” she sums up, “is, ‘What are you here for?’”

Next week: We ask the NCRT to respond to Gyniek Clay’s questions. Storm victims who would like to share with MSR readers their efforts to obtain assistance, successful or unsuccessful, are encouraged to contact editor Jerry Freeman at 612-827-4021, or email him at jfreeman@spokes

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Dwight Hobbes's picture
Dwight Hobbes

Dwight Hobbes (dwight [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the TC Daily Planet.