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Change is Possible: Group works to help disaster victims back on feet

June 2nd, 2014 2:42 pm by Staff Report

Change is Possible: Group works to help disaster victims back on feet

Unicoi Co. Sheriff Mike Hensley, CHIPS Executive Director Carolyn McAmis, and CHIPS Community Educator Jewel DeBord.

ERWIN — Victims of devastating disasters, such as floods and residential fires, are often left with nothing, but two local agencies have joined forces to ensure those impacted by such disasters have the resources to get back on their feet sooner.

Recently, the Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department and the Change Is Possible (CHIPS) Family Violence Shelter teamed on a plan of action. Through it, the agencies will work to make sure victims of catastrophic losses receive clothing and furniture at no cost in a timely manner.

“It’s devastating just to lose what you’ve got, and then you have to start searching, so this is just to help them,” Unicoi County Sheriff Mike Hensley said.

The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Department will provide furniture, including beds, lamps, chairs, televisions and drawers, and CHIPS will provide each family member with five sets of clothes and each with a place setting.

Through the initiative, when UCSD officials respond to a disaster that results in the loss of a home, the victim will receive a form to complete. Once Hensley has signed off on the completed form, the victim can bring the completed paperwork to CHIPS, which will facilitate the assistance.

“I have developed a referral form that I have given to Mike, and all he has to do is complete that form and sign off on it,” CHIPS Executive Director Carolyn McAmis said. “The victim would then bring me the form, and we’ll just write them a merchandise voucher.”

Hensley said the sheriff’s department obtained the furniture for the aid program at no cost to the county, other than pick up and transport, via the U.S. military’s surplus program, a program the department has utilized often since early 2013. Hensley said the furniture was left behind as military families relocated.

“This stuff here was going to be thrown away,” Hensley said. “This stuff right here was getting ready to go to the dump. There were having to clear it out, and they didn’t have any place to put it. I said ‘No, don’t do that.’ ”

CHIPS has offered assistance to victims of residential fires for some time, but McAmis said victims previously had to bring CHIPS a referral form from other organizations, such as the American Red Cross. By working directly with the sheriff’s department, McAmis said any gap in the time it takes to get aid to these victims is eliminated, as victims are made aware that assistance is available at the scene.

“To work with (the UCSD) for victims of fire just gives that person an extra resource and makes the process easier and more efficient for them because they’re in crisis,” McAmis said. “Before, we’re having to go through all these different channels to get assistance for clothing for the next day. Now it’s immediate access to these things.”

Since 2013, the UCSD has used the military surplus program to acquire a number of items, including six Humvees, each valued at more than $40,000; trucks; utility vehicles such as Gators and Mules; electric motorcycles; tools; power generators; and a mobile kitchen. Hensley said the department recently crossed the $2 million mark in the value of items received through the program.

And Hensley said the sheriff’s department will continue to acquire items through the program, not only to assist individuals and families affected by disaster, but for the entire community in the event it is threatened by disaster.

“Our intention is to get enough generators, chairs, that sort of thing to set up some emergency shelters,” Hensley said. “Say we had a bad tornado, or say we had a massive snowstorm and it knocked the power out, we have enough stuff now that we are prepared.”

Hensley said possible locations for these emergency include the Limestone Cove Community Center, the town of Unicoi Information and Visitors Center and the Old Flag Pond School. The sheriff said people could gather at these facilities in emergency situations and, thanks to equipment acquired through the military surplus program, would have access to electricity and heat.

“This county right now is more prepared than it ever has been in case of a disaster,” Hensley said. 

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