When it rains it pours: Social Work students partner with FEMA to assist Detroiters devastated by June floods

The heavy rainfall that hit Metro Detroit in June 2021 left many homes and residences with severe storm and flood damage. Even today, residents are struggling with flooded basements and the worsening financial, emotional and physical effects of home damage. Help is badly needed, especially with the backdrop of COVID-19 still impacting the lives of Detroiters.

The Wayne State University School of Social Work is proud to announce our Social Work Student Alliance (SWSA) has answered this call to action. Starting in September, the SWSA will be partnering with the Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide short-term assistance to Metro Detroit residents impacted by the storms, flooding and tornadoes.

The devastating impact of swift storms for Detroiters is nothing new. As with many post-industrialized cities, city funds stretched thin by a dwindling tax base have not been focused on an aging water system. With the lack of green space in urban Detroit to assist in the absorption of water, portions of the city continuously experience the trauma and devastation of large-scale flooding. This was the case with the August 14, 2014 flooding which saw six inches of rainfall in one hour resulting in more than $1.8 billion dollars in direct flood damage. Detroit businesses, infrastructure and over 75,000 homes were damaged in the storm. The June 25-26, 2021 storm resulted in 5-8 inches of rain and is anticipated to result in even more costly damages to the city. Average rainfall for the entire month of June in Detroit is 2.76 inches.  

“Filling out federal forms is a daunting task in ideal circumstances. Add to that the stress of losing valuable family heirlooms, and what should be your safe place from the storm, and undertaking the process of seeking assistance can seem insurmountable,” stated Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Anwar Najor-Durack. “Our social work student volunteers are undergoing extensive training to understand the FEMA process and to ensure our Detroit neighbors receive the support they need during this critical time.”

I'm very excited and honored to be a part of this FEMA project and assist clients in Metro Detroit. The social work profession has long been associated with disaster relief, owing to the profession's roots in wartime aid and its concern with people's physical environments. This is the perfect opportunity for me to put my social work knowledge and passion into community action. - MSW FEMA Student Volunteer Monet Eason

Social Work FEMA student volunteer headshots
Social Work FEMA student volunteers: (tow row, from left) Rosie Abed, Nora Al-Khafaji, Tiffany Ammons, Clarisa Ceasar and Lori Corbin, (bottom row, from left) Doris DeMarco, Monet Eason, Kristen Holinski, Asia Matthews and Sara Van Blerk

The SWSA-FEMA partnership is intended to provide more equitable assistance to underserved communities in the Metro Detroit area impacted by the June storms, flooding and tornadoes. Social Work student volunteers will work as rapid respondents contacting survivors residing within the declared counties of DR-4607-MI who may be eligible for additional assistance through the appeals process. Volunteers will provide residents with case assessments and connect them to FEMA and local resources.  “We are honored to serve the citizens in our community by piloting this program with FEMA with support from United Way. It will provide an additional level of problem-solving and an extra pair of hands for those whose claims have been denied. The School of Social Work continues to be responsive to the needs of our community,” noted Social Work Dean and Professor Sheryl Kubiak.

Serving the need for flood relief is massively important right now, and I couldn’t be more proud of our students for stepping up and providing assistance. When our clients need us most, social workers are always there. By doing this work with FEMA, our social work students are actively illustrating our social work values in action. - FEMA Project Coordinator Andre Iadipaolo

Launched in April 2021, the SWSA is a student-run organization designed to expand the focus on student organizations and issue advocacy, improve social work students' overall well-being and assist with student learning. “Fostering student advocacy and hands-on learning is a primary objective for the Social Work Student Alliance, so this partnership is a match made in heaven”, says Project Supervisor and Social Work Senior Lecturer Judith Wineman. “Through short-term case management, our students will connect impacted residents with the most essential FEMA resources and get them the help they need.”

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