Lakota Country Times: FEMA homes finally arrive at Pine Ridge

From left: Marvin Goings, Gary Stanley, Pedro Santiago, Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele and Ellen Martinez. Photo by Natalie Hand

FEMA housing delivery begins on Pine Ridge
By Natalie Hand

PINE RIDGE, SD -- As part of the recovery efforts from the severe storms and flooding that struck the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Spring 2015, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is providing housing assistance to residents that had disaster damage to their homes.

One type of assistance is in the form of new manufactured homes. FEMA is now in the process of placing homes on the reservation.

On Wednesday, December 9th, FEMA and Oglala Sioux Tribal President John Yellowbird Steele hosted a press conference at the homesite of Oglala Sioux Tribal member Marvin Goings to officially launch the first phase of the new home placement. Goings and FEMA representative Pedro Santiago signed official documents that gave Goings the deed to the home along with a set of keys.

New FEMA home recipient Marvin Goings and Oglala Sioux Tribe President John Yellow Bird Steele. Photo by Natalie Hand

“Before Thanksgiving I was contacted by FEMA and advised that I was approved for a new home. We’re very happy to have it. I live here with four of my takoja. We intend to make an addition on to the home in the future," stated Goings.

Goings and 214 other Oglala Lakota families on Pine Ridge will receive new, permanent homes from FEMA. An additional 109 families will benefit from home repairs from damage done by the May storm.

“I really want to express my thanks to the FEMA workers for their speedy work on this effort. I want to especially thank Delbert Brewer, the Tribe’s Emergency Management coordinator on this project and HIPA director Andre’ Janis for completing the initial assessment that convinced President Obama to declare the state of emergency for our reservation. The homes are made to withstand our winter weather. All of the benefits being allocated to this project are going directly to the families in need. The Tribe has not received any of the FEMA monies," stated Steele.

FEMA homes are fully furnished, complete with dishes and even a coffee maker. Photo by Natalie Hand

Under a recent amendment to the federal Stafford Act, federally recognized tribes can now issue “State of Emergency” requests directly to the federal government. Previously, the Tribes would have to request assistance through state governors.

Gary Stanley, FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer, is the lead official overseeing this pilot program.

“What we are doing here has never been done before. This is the very first FEMA permanent housing project in the United States," Stanley said. "When I first met with President Steele and assessed the needs of the people here, we went out and did a thorough analysis of the damage. President Steele requested three things of us…to provide the neediest families that were impacted by the May storm, with safe, secure, and inhabitable environments."

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"So we had to get creative here and launch this as our pilot project. We deemed it the 'Permanent Housing Construction Mission,'" Stanley added. "We intend to keep our promise and see this project through to completion. It has been great working with President Yellowbird Steele and the Tribal Council. We have a strong open dialogue."

Over $250,000 has been issued to tribal members for personal property loss reimbursements. The Tribe was awarded a $900,000 “Imminent Threat” federal grant that has allowed them to purchase 10 temporary trailer homes for families to live in until their new homes arrive.

The FEMA homes are 14’x60’ manufactured homes that feature pitched roofs, 2x6 construction. They are fully furnished, complete with kitchen appliances, dining and living room furniture, as well as bedroom furnishings.

“These homes are assigned to the neediest families and I’m grateful for everyone working on this project to help our tribe”, stated Steele.

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