Katrina Home Drive

Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, LA

(The Katrina Home Drive article has been on wikipedia for a couple of years. This morning I noticed it was marked as an article that may be deleted (for reasons unknown. I am reposting here in its entirety. — Kirby Sommers

Katrina Home Drive (KHD) is a non-profit organization created by Kirby Sommers, a Manhattan based real estate broker, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to help with the housing needs of those whose lives were devastated along the Gulf Coast.[1] Volunteers and others offering homes and other resources used the Yahoo based group [2] as their initial meeting place to help the newly displaced survivors. Katrina Home Drive was among the first to utilize social media to help with a catastrophic disaster.

As volunteers flocked to the group, Sommers created a flyer with the words: “We Can Help You” along her phone number emblazoned across an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper. Thousands of flyers were printed by volunteers across the United States and made their way to the Reliant Astrodome in Houston, Texas, and to shelters, hotels and eventually across all 50 states as Katrina survivors began their mass migration across the country. In one instance a volunteer from Chicago boarded a plane and headed to Mississippi where he put them up on whatever tree limbs remained in the town of Biloxi, Mississippi.

Jodi Wilgoren, a reporter for The New York Times wrote a feature story which ran on October 16, 2005 titled [3] ‘For the Needy, a Web of Matchmakers Offers Help and Hope,’ about the help ordinary people offered from the earliest moments after the disaster through Katrina Home Drive. Almost two years later, on January 7, 2007 Veto Roley, a reporter with The Mississippi Press penned an article called ‘Realtor Develops Katrina Home Drive.’ The article focused on Kirby Sommers’ group and their ability to assist with more than housing resources.

The American Red Cross (ARC) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), handed out copies of the early flyer to evacuees as a housing resource. Neither group ever checked its source. Sommers is known to have said: “I was just an ordinary person living in New York.” Both agencies were woefully unprepared to assist with the issue of housing at the time. The housing crisis remained a highly controversial issue and persists to this day.

Immediately after the deadly disaster, The American Red Cross, who was the largest recipient of donations, came under investigation by Senator Charles Grassley head of the Senate Finance Committee who did not receive answers to questions posed by him about what he called a “flawed initial response.” The initial investigation, referenced in a New York Times article dated March 24, 2006 written by journalist Stephanie Strom discussed wide ranging accusations of possible criminal action among its volunteers.

On May 17, 2007, Kirby Sommers called the Red Cross at their headquarters in Washington, D.C. During a conversation with Jeanne Elinport, Sommers confirmed her suspicions of a secretive fund. The ‘Means to Recovery Program’ was never made public to the tens of thousands of still misplaced persons who remained in need of assistance. Sommers contacted Shaila Dewan, a New York Times reporter who wrote about the problem in an article dated August 10, 2007 entitled ‘Red Cross Faces Criticism Over Aid Program for Hurricane Victims.’[4]

On the Katrina Home Drive website, Kirby Sommers also posted an application for the Means to Recovery Program where assistance of as much as $20,000 per family was being quietly offered by case workers to chosen applicants.

Controversy followed as crowds of angry Hurricane Katrina survivors marched to their local Red Cross offices. Initially the Red Cross stated that the money was a “rumor.” After the New York Times story broke, the Red Cross stated the program could only help a mere 4,000 families.