Hattiesburg recovery adviser cautions storm victims

Hattiesburg recovery adviser cautions storm victims

PINE BELT (WDAM) - Once FEMA's part is done, volunteers return home and the generosity wanes there will still be a population left in need. When that time comes an organization in the Pine Belt, whose purpose is long term recovery, steps up.

R3SM is that long-term recovery agency for the Pine Belt. It is former executive director, Sheila Varnado, is an army veteran,

As a resident of Hattiesburg for 20 years, she is also experienced in recovery.

"I am now a veteran of Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Issac, and the tornado of 2013," Varnado said.

Now, she serves as the agency's volunteer adviser. She knows what it means to pick up the pieces after a storm, and to help others do so.

"I've seen this story replay itself over and over," Varnado said.

She has seen cases play out like this, uninsured or under-insured victims of a storm qualify for FEMA or MEMA dollars, which can be $30,000 or more, and then the pitfall.

"I have seen too many families who end up still homeless basically, because once they got the money they used it for their valid needs right at that moment, but it was not to put themselves back into a permanent housing situation," Varnado said.

If those cases reach out to R3SM for its long-term recovery resources, Varnado said the agency's hands maybe tied.

"We will say 'we are sorry we can't help you or we put you at the end of the line,' because we are looking to work with people who did not receive that money to that degree to be able to recover themselves," Varnado said.

Varnado said to avoid this, put the money in a safe place.

"In a savings account, turn it over to their church if they are more comfortable with that, turn it over to the (Greater) Pine Belt Community Foundation that has a disaster recovery fund. It can be labeled with your name on it so the money is specifically for you," Varnado said.

She added recovering completely means taking the right steps after the storm.

Varnado wants the public to know the large purpose of a long-term recovery agency is to leverage money wisely, so as many people as possible recover completely.

So, if you cannot recover on your on, meaning renters, under-insured, or uninsured you can contact R3SM at 601-544-5115. They are also located on 301 Buschman Street in Hattiesburg.