My name is Tony Landecker and I work in HUD’s Minneapolis field office. My day-to-day job at HUD is working with public housing authorities in the Minneapolis-Saint Paul area where I help manage their housing units.
On September 24th, I volunteered to deploy to Baton Rouge, Louisiana to join the Disaster Response Team to help more than 60,000 displaced residents find homes after the devastating floods in August.
I was assigned the lead HUD role at the Celtic Shelter in Baton Rouge to join a team working to find permanent housing solutions for 130 families before the shelter was scheduled to close about a week later. With the help of Red Cross volunteers, FEMA volunteers, HUD employees, Louisiana Housing Corporation team members, and Catholic Charities, we called hundreds of apartment developments, property management companies and individual landlords to identify vacant units in which we could place these folks.
I was totally unprepared for the personal impact the work would have on me, and the impression we left on the people we served. What I saw took my breath away. In some towns, a devastating 90 percent of the residents lost their homes and businesses.
This extraordinary team made the impossible possible, getting survivors into permanent housing in as little as one day. Together, we identified available housing and the Louisiana Housing Corporation worked to qualify survivors for up to 12 months of rental assistance and they even arranged for housing inspections all in the same day.
The Red Cross provided transportation so these families could view the housing, and once the lease was signed, moved them into their new home. Other partner agencies helped to overcome any barriers facing these families, including providing security and utility deposits, furniture and bedding, application fees, hotels (if the lease couldn’t be signed in one day), food and gas cards, and sometimes even cash.
By 2 p.m. on the day of the shelter’s closing, we placed the last family in a four-bedroom home. We were exhausted but elated! From this experience I learned that strength of will is a powerful thing and that by working as a team we could move mountains. I also learned that providing these families with literature, referrals and links to available resources doesn’t work. Elbow grease is what’s needed. It’s the personal touch that makes all the difference.
My experience of spending more than two weeks in a disaster zone is something that changed my outlook on my own family and my job. The opportunity to help in such a profound way is incredibly gratifying. I will forever remember the survivors we were able to assist and the hope and promise our HUD team was able to provide.
Tony Landecker is a Management Specialist in HUD’s Minneapolis Field Office.