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OTWCAC steps in to fill housing needs

As the initial Wadena relief efforts shift to the need for long-term solutions and permanent rebuilding, the Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council is determined to stay on top of the area's needs and get the word out about its resources.

Dana Patsie and Diane Leaders attended a meeting at St. Ann's Catholic Church with several other organizations and city leaders concerning the transition from short-term to long-term recovery in the wake of the June 17 tornado.

One of the greatest long-term problems facing the town is the sudden shortage of permanent housing, especially rental units. Patsie, a family services counselor, said OTWCAC has "been trying to keep a list of housing availability which changes minute to minute because so many people were displaced."

She added that they have been able to help with the first month's rent or deposit.

Patsie pointed out that even insured homeowners may share the insurance check with the mortgage company and "there may not be extra money to rebuild even what they had before."

Tornado victims have a long road ahead in other areas.

"We've talked to folks that have had their cars destroyed, and some of those had liability only," Patsie said. "So windshields and those things aren't covered."

Some relatively lucky Wadena residents lost only the food in their refrigerators. For those living from paycheck to paycheck, however, replacing groceries can be a major setback by itself.

While the tornado has brought new requests for help, Patsie said that "because of the economy," OTWCAC has already "worked with folks that were financially meeting their needs" before the recession or illness set them back.

Since struggling Wadena and Otter Tail County residents may be embarrassed to say they have received help, there is little word of mouth about this nonprofit.

Lakes Radio has helped to spread the word on the airwaves, however. According to Patsie, Perham's 99.5 FM station and United Community Bank raised $15,000 for OTWCAC to distribute aid.

OTWCAC actively connects with various resources like Salvation Army, Red Cross, Rising Phoenix, Social Services, and other organizations.

Leaders, the director of family services, emphasized the role of religious organizations.

"The churches in town have worked hard," she said. "That's one of the things that we say ... that the faith community step up and take the leadership in long-term recovery."

Patsie hopes the recent high visibility of organizations like Salvation Army will inspire people to get involved locally.

Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council provides services such as rent assistance, energy assistance, foreclosure counseling, family planning clinics, emergency help and low-income programs including Head Start.

Founded in 1965, OTWCAC is a locally-controlled agency of the national Community Action Partnership, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting poverty and strengthening communities.

To contact OTWCAC, call (218) 385-2900 or toll free (800) 450-2900.