12 News investigates reports of mistreatment at Red Cross shelters

Many have used social media to complain about the American Red Cross's emergency shelters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. They have claimed they were not properly taken care of, or did not getting enough to eat.

Many people have used social media to complain about the American Red Cross’s emergency shelters in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. They have claimed they were not properly taken care of, or did not getting enough to eat.

12 News wanted to know if it was true, so we went to the emergency shelter at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Port Arthur.

“I hear that,” Ken Watkins said of the criticism. "But, you know, if you talk to the residents here, they’ll tell you that we’ve treated them well. We’re there for them. We’ve taken care of their needs.”

Watkins is the assistant shelter manager in Port Arthur and has been there since it opened roughly two weeks ago. He acknowledged that there were times when it was difficult to get supplies.

“We had to get resources from everywhere,” he said. “They started in. We sent out the word, and within 12 hours, we had stuff coming in. So, I mean, it was slow-going, but it was coming in. Everybody had what they needed. Would we have liked more? Absolutely. Everybody got what they needed. They were taken care of. We couldn’t ask for anything better.”

Arthur Lee Shields, Jr. said he had spent the last week and a half at the shelter. “It’s been all right,” he said. “You know, I just hate that we lost everything, you know? It’s a major, drastic change for a lot of people to get their self together.”

The 32 volunteers who man the shelter had treated him well. “They’ve been pretty good,” he stated.

Just in case an adult might feel self-conscious about criticizing the group that took him in when life was at its worst, we asked a group known for its honesty: kids.

“It’s been kind of fun,” claimed a 13-year-old named Denaija. "But they just have too [many] rules now.”

“At first, we hadn’t found the rules out,” explained her cousin, Teddrick, 13. “A couple days later, we end up looking on the wall, and we found a whole bunch of rules. Then they had rules: no running, but we be running. It says no playing, but they got a whole place where we can play.”

Watkins said part of the struggle was that many of the locations where the American Red Cross would normally go for supplies were also flooded. He said, whenever there were problems, the City of Port Arthur and the entire community made sure the evacuees were taken care of.

“It was challenging, but it was amazing to see the community come together,” he stated. “One of the ladies put out on Facebook that some folks here hadn’t eaten in a while, and you name it, it showed up within hours.”

Watkins said he could understand if some of the other shelters had problems getting supplies immediately after the storm, too, but did not know about specific cases.

“We do what we can,” he said. “We do everything humanly possible to help everybody. Sometimes, you know, it’s all we can do. We do exactly what we can do. We try, and we make a difference.

“If you’re not doing something, there’s nobody going to criticize you, but we’re out here. We’re working. We’re making a difference. You do the best you can.”

Patrick Peshoff, a private volunteer, said he could understand why some people might be unhappy. “Well, they’re doing enough,” he mentioned. “I think it’s a lack of communication, is what it is.”

Peshoff was on his fourth day as a volunteer. He said he cleaned the floors of the dormitory space, brought food to the elderly, and even offered sponge baths to those evacuees who needed the assistance. He was proud to be part of the team of volunteers at the shelter.

"I just got an apartment, and I had it for a month. I lost it. You know? But I’ve been through it more than once. I just want everyone to keep their heads up in this type of situation," he said.

Watkins, a volunteer who lives in Hawaii and flew in for the response to Harvey, said procuring supplies is much easier now that the flooding has receded, but that he and his team always try their hardest for the people they serve.

Watkins said more than 600 evacuees slept in the shelter in the first days after the storm. He said there were approximately 200 there Thursday afternoon, as many have either returned home, or gone home for the day to begin their repairs.

© 2017 KBMT-TV


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