And I thought spinning off our emergency assistance ministry into a nonprofit was difficult! My first presentation to the Town of Lyons Board of Trustees on Tues, Feb. 17th certainly had my head spinning.
The Lyons Emergency Assistance Fund (LEAF) is a nonprofit working to provide a food pantry, basic and emergency needs, case management, and flood recovery. LEAF was recently requested to make a BOT presentation about our flood recovery and advocacy work. Together with many collaborative partners, LEAF is moving greater Lyons-area residents towards self-sufficiency, especially in the aftermath of natural disaster, by providing homeless-prevention services (utilities, medical, food) where other available support is insufficient.
In October 2014, in response to a need voiced by the Confluence homeowners, LEAF hired certified floodplain engineer Jonathan Diller to assist with fast-tracking rebuilding permits. He has been a source of hope and expertise to many residents, their architects and contractors, and even Town staff. Jonathan’s contract was recently extended so that he can provide support into the summer building season.
In November 2014, LEAF commissioned a study of the feasibility of manufactured housing communities (MHCs) for flood recovery in Lyons. The study is currently in progress; results are expected to be published in late March or early April. Preliminary findings indicate that MHCs are not impossible, as the Town was once told, but that they are both rare/uncommon and complicated to develop and finance.
In direct response to the needs of our former mobile home park residents, LEAF also hired Janaki Jane in November 2014 as our Displaced Resident Advocate. Jane’s purpose is to connect with this geographically-scattered and highly diverse population, listen to their concerns, and encourage them to enter or continue case management (with LEAF or LTFRG, the Long-Term Flood Recovery Group of Boulder County). She shares correct factual information and publicly represents this segment of displaced residents when necessary. She prefers, however, to hold space and encourage them to represent themselves. As reported to the BOT, some key learnings from this advocacy work include:
1. Many former mobile home park residents were upset and angry when first contacted. They felt betrayed and forgotten by Town staff, Trustees, and their former neighbors. Many, though not all, have relocated multiple times since the flood and still have not found a permanent home.
2. These residents are naturally experiencing a cycle of grief and loss, which can easily be triggered by the stigmatization of the current affordable housing debate. The initial trauma of losing their homes, possessions, jobs and sense of community is currently being compounded.
3. There is a complexity of information about resources and recovery that overwhelms and confuses – people do not know where to turn for solid answers. From incomplete or rapidly changing facts, to inexperienced case managers, to an inability to attend many local meetings, these residents simply need and appreciate LEAF’s support in understanding the processes and realities.
LEAF is happy to share anecdotal findings from our advocacy projects, but we value our clients’ privacy and are committed to confidentiality. We are not consultants or statisticians, and we are not conducting a market study to determine how many displaced residents plan to return to Lyons. We have, however, been able to locate and reach most of our former mobile home park residents, and the the vast majority are hoping to return home to Lyons, have added their information to a preference list in formation, and are eagerly awaiting more details about potential affordable housing options.
In the meantime, we will continue to support their recovery in every way – even if that means more late-night, head spinning BOT meetings!