Northside Community Response Team promises new level of accountability, transparency—NCRT responds to MSR

Al Flowers and Lissa Jones co-chair the NCRT Accountabliy and Transparency Commitee.

Last Sunday marked three months since a tornado struck parts of North Minneapolis. Nearly 60 local organizations, agencies, churches and other entities helped formed the Northside Community Response Team (NCRT), which has been meeting weekly to help residents in the recovery effort.

The Minneapolis Foundation established a recovery fund, and over $1.3 million dollars has been raised from community donations and matching grants. One hundred percent of the donations will be used for the North Minneapolis relief and recovery effort, says the organization’s website.

More than $240,000 in grants has been awarded to the NCRT to support an overall management plan of human needs of those impacted by the tornado (in addition to over $200,000 for relief efforts immediately following the storm). However, after three months of weekly meetings, some community residents, especially those who are storm victims, are questioning what the group is really doing.

“What are you here for?” asked storm victim Gyniek Clay in an August 18 MSR published article [“Storm victim’s quest for help runs her in circles”].

“The rumors are out there now very strong that people are getting [money],” said Northside resident Henrietta Faulkner during an NCRT Accountability and Transparency Committee meeting last week. She is one of three residents on the 10-member committee.

The MSR asked two key NCRT members — Human Needs Committee Chairperson Chanda Smith Baker and Rev. Richard Coleman, who are both on the five-person NCRT Core Team — for comments, but neither returned our phone messages.

There is “so much misinformation flying around” the community, noted Accountability and Transparency Interim Chair Lissa Jones.

“I’ve heard the same things,” added Co-Chair Al Flowers. “Someone called me and said they were told that they had to wait three weeks [for help]. I know people are hurting.”

“I’m willing to put my name and reputation on the line on this effort to date,” said Jones. “Not one cent, not one dime of the Minneapolis Foundation grant, which is the only money the NCRT has received and this committee is responsible for, has left the bank. One hundred percent of the funds are with the fiscal agent, the Greater Minneapolis Council of Churches.

“The Accountability and Transparency Committee of the NCRT really exists for two things,” explained Jones. “One, to profoundly change the way decisions are made by having the people who are actually affected by the disaster be in decision-making positions at a table where money is going to come down. The second is to provide a layer of accountability and transparency that we’ve never seen anywhere in the Black village.

“An organization [seeking funds] must submit a summary of what they are asking for, what services they are providing, how many people are you going to touch,” Jones continued. Her committee also is responsible for creating a process on “not only how we are going to understand what people are asking for, but also how do we measure that. How do we find some legitimacy…on how many people were touched?”

Jones emphasized that the NCRT and her committee “is something different.” She believes that it can be a model on how to get things done whenever a crisis hits the community. “We really have the chance to transform the way this community receives resources and information about its own resources,” she said.

However, she added that she fully understands the skeptics out in the community who question the NCRT’s true intentions. “It’s very easy for us to feed into those [rumors]. What is not so easy is to trust that there are some in the Black community who are not working against your best interest.”

Both Jones and Flowers briefly answered some of the questions Clay raised in the MSR story, such as getting “a runaround” from NCRT as she seeks help.

“If the NCRT hasn’t followed through with services, and she may not have gotten a call back from an individual, that may be plausible and possible. This is a very young organization,” offered Jones. “The NCRT seems to be the focus for fixing everything.”

She also said that there have been organizations that are connected with the NCRT that have been assisting storm victims but have not been “well communicated.”

On the allegation that the NCRT is not working, Jones responded, “I don’t see anybody else keeping their focus on tornado victims. I don’t see any other organization who has been able to pull 35 to 60 organizations together who don’t normally work together, and try to figure out a network for people. Is it perfect? Far from it.”

“I know people are hurting,” said Flowers, “but if we wanted to give each person who was affected by the tornado some money, they might get $100, [and] then we’ll say we’re all done now. But that’s not good.

“Although it is not coming fast enough, the help will come,” he promised. “The help is on the way.”

Jones strongly suggests to storm victims such as Clay, “We need residents to come to those NCRT meetings. We need them to say face-to-face [that] this is what is happening.

“We are deadly serious” on helping those who need it, she said. “It takes some time.”

The NCRT Accountability Committee is scheduled to meet Monday, August 29, 2 pm at the Center for Children and Families, 3355 4th Street North.

NCRT responds to MSR

The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder asked the NCRT Core Team to respond to some questions raised in last week’s story “Storm victim’s quest for help runs her in circles.” Here is their
reply:

MSR: What has the NCRT done to date on behalf of tornado victims?

NCRT: Globally, the NCRT is here to assist in the rebuilding of North Minneapolis. We are here to understand and meet the needs of those impacted by the tornado. We are organized around the following areas:

  • Basic needs
  • Housing
  • Jobs
  • Health and wellness
  • Transparency and accountability
  • Communications
  • Core team
  • Administrative services

Equally important is our intent to ensure that the residents of the community participate in the economic exchange that occurs as a function of the rebuild.

Finally, it is our intent to demonstrate that people and institutions from North Minneapolis can function without the dysfunction normally associated with the leadership. The dysfunction prevents anything from getting done.

MSR: We understand that the NCRT has been awarded two grants of $206,000 and $240,750 from the Minneapolis Foundation for a total of close to $500,000 (excluding an additional $375,000 raised for summer youth jobs). Has any of the Minneapolis Foundation money been spent yet, and if so, for what purpose?

NCRT: The initial funds ($206,000) were exhausted in the first days after the storm and used for rapid response operations: emergency tarping, water, etc.

The $240,000 was granted on July 7. The cash arrived at GMCC on approximately August 7. During that period, we have continued to provide basic needs services, which we can bill back to July 7, provided that there is no duplication of services. We have not drawn down any funds because we are working to put our accountability system in place.

This has never been done before in this community and we are working hard to put a transparent process in place. We won’t move forward without it.

MSR: Community members appear to have the impression that the NCRT should be providing direct services of some kind to storm victims. If this impression is inaccurate, what should the community understand about the NCRT’s role?

NCRT: The NCRT is working to provide jobs, housing, and health and wellness services. Here are a few examples.

In regards to housing, more than 3,000 volunteers were deployed in the first four days after the storm for emergency debris removal. There were 37 emergency services for uninsured tarps, security, electrical; 27 local/minority-owned business contracts created; 10 non-local/minority-owned business contracts created; 26 properties assisted with debris removal to comply with City citations, plus 13 more scheduled.

Five underinsured homeowners completed with A Brush With Kindness; six applications received for Critical Home Repair; communications to get word out about SBA Loan Center (10,000 pieces distributed to property owners plus radio, communities of faith, and on the Internet); free architectural consults available for all property owners impacted by the storm; Quick-Start administration available through NHS. Coming soon: resources for un-insured owners to convert tarps into shingles before the snow flies.

In addition, NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center is a member of the NCRT and in collaboration with other community health providers is providing mental health, chemical dependency, medical and other counseling and health services to victims of the tornado.

NorthPoint also is working with Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis to provide behavioral health recovery services in a number of different interventions including art therapy for children, peer counseling for teens and support groups for families. NorthPoint Food Shelf also has provided food, hygiene and household supplies to more than 1,500 households impacted by the storm.

In reference to the basic needs element, there are several efforts underway at locations such as the Hub and Shiloh, which provide limited services to people. They also refer clients “via navigators” to more extensive service providers for things like childcare subsidies, housing education and advocacy, and more. Pillsbury has an extensive support network and provides referrals and direct service.

MSR: How do you respond to people who are saying they don’t need “navigators,” they need cash?

NCRT: Honestly, many of them needed cash before the storm. Further, remember that 12,000 people were impacted by the storm with 274 structures destroyed. Hennepin County gave emergency cash assistance immediately after the storm. The shelters are empty. Emergency food was given.

Here is the math: $117,000 was given to three organizations for navigators equaling about $39,000 per organization. Each organization, based on previous Hennepin County contracts, can help about 438 people over a six-month period with the $39,000.

This equals about $89 per person. The $89 spent per person leverages childcare subsidies from Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), housing assistance, etc. We received $25,000 in cash assistance to spread around 1,400 people. That’s about $19.23 per person.

MSR: Apparently storm victims are being referred to “places everyone already knows about: Emergency Assistance. Red Cross. Salvation Army.” If so, how do you respond to storm victims who feel this is just a runaround and no new services are available to help them?

NCRT: No new relief organizations were established after the storm. The response and relief system consists of the ones who were here before the event. While the system is not perfect, it appears to be meeting the needs of the overwhelming majority of the people impacted by the storm. Only a very, very small percentage of the total population is unhappy with the process.

MSR: What (if anything) is being done (or will be done) to help people replace material losses due to the storm, such as their furnishings, cars, clothing and computers?

NCRT: Individuals have received clothing. Bridging offers furniture. Car programs, usually tied to work or school, were lean before the storm and continue to be. Everything takes time; however, a lot is being done.

MSR: Is approval of expenditures of NCRT funds a function of the entire membership of 50+ organizations, or is that a function of the Core Team only?

NCRT: The Transparency and Accountability Committee reviews the expenditures and they are approved by the core leadership team.

Members of the NCRT Core Team are: Louis King (chair, TCOIC), Chanda Baker (Pillsbury United Communities), Chad Schwitter (Urban Homeworks), Scott Gray (Mpls Urban League), Stella Whitney-West (NorthPoint), Peter Hayden (Turning Point), and Lissa Jones (Accountability/Transparency Committee).

Members of the Accountability/Transparency Committee are: Lissa Jones (interim chair), Al Flowers (interim vice chair), Velva Stewart, Tanisha Gibson, Keith Brewer, Henrietta Faulkner, Bruce Bjork, and Makeda Zulu Gillespie.

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    Charles Hallman's picture
    Charles Hallman

    Charles Hallman writes regularly for the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder and blogs at Another View.