SVdP-USA Launches Disaster Services Corporation

The Society of St. Vincent de Paul (SVdP-USA) has launched Disaster Services Corporation, SVdP-USA to better respond to disasters such as those seen in recent weeks in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The corporation, which will remain under the auspices of SVdP-USA’s national council, represents a necessary change in legal structure to help the organization better focus its disaster-response efforts, said Elizabeth Disco-Shearer, CEO of the corporation.

SVdP-USA has operated a disaster services division under its national office for four years now and previously operated the division under its south-central region encompassing Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, working in earnest starting with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2006.
SVdP-USA has been working in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and Puerto Rico in recent weeks – Disco-Shearer describing Hurricanes Harvey and Irma as Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy coming at the same time, while Puerto Rico might be the worst off of them all due to infrastructural damage.

The advantages of structuring a separate corporation are two-fold, D-Shearer said. For one, SVdP-USA works in many other service realms, such as homelessness, and the corporation allows for resources to be focused strictly on the terminology, laws, and logistics of disaster relief. Second, it allows the corporation to fundraise separately from the larger organization.

“Disasters are very specialized, financing, funding, a lot of definitions. It’s a very specialized field,” she said. “We feel like a singular focus is the best way.”

Five core staff spread across Washington D.C., Dallas, and Nebraska will help operate the corporation. Disco-Shearer said that another 22 contract staff, currently working in Louisiana, will also be part of the team. The corporation has a current budget of $2 million through government contracting and will look for support via federal and state grants.

Disaster Services Corporation will operate as a separate 501(c)3 and subsidiary of SVdP-USA’s national council. Disco-Shearer likened the structure to the separately incorporated foundations operated by some nonprofits. Some of the national council’s board members will also serve on the corporation’s board, providing oversight, according to Disco-Shearer.

The corporation’s work will differ from others in the disaster-response space in its longer-term focus. Current work includes parish recovery assistance centers are established in impacted communities to help those effected navigate Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) claims, file unemployment claims, and seek supplemental assistance such as food stamps. Such work has just been completed in Texas and is underway in Florida.

Longer-term programming features “house in a box” and case management. “House in a box” is intended to fill gaps left in recovery efforts by providing those that have lost their homes couches, beds, linens, pots, pans, and dishes to start-up their new home or recently rebuilt home. Disaster case managers can work with individuals and families for up to two years after a disaster and, in addition to navigating FEMA and insurance claims, also help establish road maps for future life steps such as employment and education.

A year or two after an event, SVdP’s disaster-services unit has, and the corporation will continue, hosting economic recovery summits.

“We come back and we bring together subject-matter experts in government, nonprofits, education…we brain storm to get the [local] economy going again.”