Shepherding Survivors through Disaster Recovery

Mark Lambert
February 22, 2022
Read the story of Howard Hines, a case manager for the Louisiana Conference. Case managers are at the center of recovery ministry in Louisiana. They work directly with the homeowners, walking with survivors and empowering them to take the lead in their own recovery. 
 
The first thing you learn about Howard Hines is that he loves people. Not in the “I’m a people person!” meme of forced familiarity, but in the genuine, broad smile and “Heeey, how you doin’, buddy!” greeting, a welcome that says you are the highlight of his day.
Howard Hines


Howard, a case manager for the Louisiana Methodist Conference’s disaster relief efforts, loves talking to people, listening to people, working with people, and helping people. Especially helping people.

And it’s a good thing, too, because a lot of desperate people in hurricane-battered southwest Louisiana are counting on people like Howard to help put their homes and lives back in order.

“This is a great way to spend your day if you have that mindset and willingness to understand the folks you’re dealing with have just lost the most expensive thing they’ve ever owned,” Howard said. “There’s something good about doing what you’re supposed to do, and we’re supposed to help people.”

After years of grinding it out in the insurance business, Howard spent another seven years traveling the state on behalf of the Louisiana United Methodist Children’s Home. He left that job and spent a year “playing golf with my son,” adding it was one of the “best times of my life.”

He may have thought his working days were behind him, but tee time with his 33-year-old son would have to wait. Howard’s church needed him again, this time as a case manager to help storm survivors navigate the financial and documentation labyrinth of long-term storm recovery.

“Case managers like Howard are at the center of our recovery ministry,” said Bill Howell, director of the Office of Missional Engagement and Outreach for the conference. “They work directly with the homeowners and get everything in place so we can put up those new roofs and walls. Without case managers, we’d be standing on the street corner, handing out hammers and nails.”

A “case manager” job may sound like a paper-pushing position for someone who relishes bureaucratic anonymity, but Howard says it’s one of the most challenging, personal, and rewarding things he’s ever undertaken. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he said.

Because he lives in Shreveport and his clients are in the Lake Charles area, Howard does much of his work over the phone, helping homeowners gather insurance documents, repair estimates, and mortgage and property records. About once a week, Howard makes the three-and-a-half-hour drive to Lake Charles to meet face-to-face with the people he’s helping.
Phone calls can be too mechanical. There’s just something about being able to shake someone’s hand or put your arm over their shoulder and just let them talk about what they want to talk about.
Howard Hines


“There are feelings and emotions and responses that do not and cannot exist over a phone call,” Howard explained. “But, when you’re sitting down with someone and just having a conversation, people are more open to talk to you than they are on the phone. Phone calls can be too mechanical. There’s just something about being able to shake someone’s hand or put your arm over their shoulder and just let them talk about what they want to talk about.”

Thanks to the generosity of donors who have given to the conference’s disaster relief efforts, Howard and the other case managers can help those survivors. But now, the conference needs more case managers, as survivors of Hurricane Ida in southeastern Louisiana begin moving into the long-term recovery phase.

“Case managers are critical to the recovery process,” Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey said. “Yes, they help storm survivors make needed repairs to their damaged homes, but they provide so much more. They walk alongside survivors, listen to their stories and help bring restoration not just to their homes but to their lives.”

Rev. Bob Deich, the Louisiana Conference Disaster Response Coordinator, said the work Howard and other case managers do is vital to survivors’ long-term recovery.

“Early recovery is chainsaws and hands with gloves on and boots on the ground,” Deich said. Early response teams, or ERTs, move in and out of a disaster area quickly, focusing on removing immediate hazards shortly after a storm.

But, once the response teams have left, the intense media coverage of a storm has faded, and the public’s attention has moved on, the exhausted homeowner is left with a broken home and, too often, inadequate financial resources to repair it. Dealing with insurance companies and a slow-moving federal emergency bureaucracy only adds to the despair. This is where the case manager steps in.

“Disasters hit people in the gut, and recovery is not a party,” Deich said. “These case managers walk with survivors and empower them to take the lead in their own recovery. They become a shepherd to these people. They see broken hearts and broken spirits. That’s what makes a difference in the long haul.”

Case managers do need to have some basic computer skills, but Howard said the more important skills are empathy, patience, a true desire to help others, and “being able to willingly step into the fire, and not everybody’s got that. And that ability to run toward it and not from it will make a difference in the life of the person you’re trying to help.”

If you are interested in becoming a disaster case manager for the church, send a note to Bill Howell at whowell@la-umc.org.
 
 

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