WARREN COUNTY, Ky. (LEX 18) — A tornado survivor is now homeless and looking for answers after he says he banked on federal assistance that never came.
For the past six months, 47-year-old Marcus Woods has been bouncing from hotel to hotel just to have a place to sleep.
"I don't know how much more I can take," said Woods.
He's now homeless and running out of options as his money dwindles. Woods says his life began to crumble the day the devastating tornado hit Bowling Green.
On December 4, he says his apartment was broken into. After filing a police report and a claim with his insurance, he signed to opt out of his lease.
However, just two days later, the tornado hit and sent him scrambling for a place at the same time as hundreds of others in an already slim housing market.
"They had so many people that they had to rehouse, which was the whole area. Every apartment that was available whether it cost 5 dollars or a million dollars, it was gone," said Woods. "I couldn't even find storage to put my stuff."
He still had to be out of his apartment by January 4.
"At that point, I had to just give my landlord my keys to avoid getting an eviction," said Woods.
Since that time, Woods has filed appeals and been denied. FEMA documents reveal his appeal was denied because the reason for his lack of housing was a termination of his lease, not because of the tornado disaster.
Woods was also denied his renter insurance claim and PUA benefits due to losing appeals for both. For him, the process feels confusing and unattainable. He says he was banking on something to help him out of an unpredictable situation and is regretting it.
"Everything that was supposed to happen did not happen. They didn't do it for me, and I don't know why or what's going on with the situation, but it's led me to a point of where I am now," said Woods.
Woods did admit to being involved in bad decisions due to the sequence of events he found himself in. He says he's now headed to a local shelter.
"It's so difficult for a person who has a unique situation like me to get assistance. What am I supposed to do," he questioned.
Millions have been spent to help survivors recover since the tornado hit. Immediately, hundreds of volunteers hit shaken communities and non-profits began mobilizing.
However, months later, a lot of those volunteers are gone, distribution centers have closed, and housing continues to be a challenge.
Community groups and non-profits like United Way of Southern Kentucky are some of the only ones left continuing to help.
"We knew after the tornado hit that it would take some time for a lot of these families to get back to normal. Unfortunately, our area has a huge housing shortage like many areas in the country. And so, there's not places for people that don't have homes," said Elizabeth Newbould, Marketing Specialist for United Way of Southern Kentucky.
Right now, United Way of Southern Kentucky is still working to help almost 300 different families through case management.
"And those are people that are still in need, who are still going through the process of trying to rebuild or get repairs done and get back to the life they had before or better," said Newbould.
Anyone can call 211 to request help.
Newbould says there are still a lot of people in temporary housing.
"It's gonna be a long long time before we're able to get the housing that a lot of these tornado victims need," said Newbould.
A snapshot of the need is seen in the number of people who applied for FEMA's individual assistance, which hit around 15,000.
But just like Woods' many of those requests were denied. FEMA says so far 6,000 were ineligible. The number makes up 40%.
"There are common reasons an application may be ineligible at one point or another throughout the disaster assistance application process. Please see our fact sheet here, Helpful Tips When Filing an Appeal for FEMA Assistance that details these reasons. Currently, about 6,000 applications are ineligible. An applicant can appeal an eligibility decision and/or provide documentation that can change their eligibility.
It is important to remember that any assistance provided by FEMA is supplemental and is focused on short-term, disaster-caused needs. FEMA grants are designed to make a damaged home safe, sanitary, and functional. Survivors are encouraged to appeal if additional needs are unmet.
I do want to stress that by law, FEMA cannot provide funding to individuals or households for losses covered by insurance or any other source. Homeowner or rental insurance is the primary go-to defense during a disaster. Then if a survivor is uninsured or underinsured, FEMA assistance may be available. This is why it's important insured survivors keep in touch with FEMA and submit a copy of their insurance settlement or denial letter. Eligibility for FEMA assistance cannot be determined until applicants provide their insurance settlement information.
FEMA is just one piece of the recovery puzzle. Recovery takes the whole community pulling together to get the job done. Neighbors helping neighbors, voluntary and faith-based groups, the private sector, and local, state, and federal agencies such as FEMA, HUD, SBA, and the Army Corps of Engineers are all needed to help survivors recover from this disaster," said Public Affairs specialist Johanna Strickland.
Claire Balsley is a part of a non-profit called SBP that helps disaster survivors with FEMA appeals for free, understanding that that expert assistance can make and has made all the difference.
"In order to receive those funds all, the i's have to be dotted and t's have to be crossed and unfortunately thee marginalized communities are most affected," explained Balsley.
However, she says FEMA assistance has improved over the years and believes they're working as hard as they can.
"What happens is it can take up to 90 days for FEMA to respond to a survivor and if they receive a denial letter and don't understand that they can appeal," said Balsley.
She says people have to keep appealing as needed. That's why the period between disaster and recovery can be and has been extremely long for some Kentucky tornado survivors.
Many are relying on community resources to fill the gap in the meantime.