Post-flood recovery counselors here to stay | St. Louis Public Radio

Post-flood recovery counselors here to stay

May 27, 2016

In the months after floods swept through his hometown of Fenton  just after Christmas, Scott Bayliff and 16 crisis counselors from the mental health center Places for People were on the ground to help.

“We ask them how they’re doing, assess them for the signs of trauma, signs of depression, worsening sleep, anxiety, increased substance use,” Bayliff said. “We’re here to listen. We knew a lot of people were just overwhelmed, and they just needed someone.”

Places for People, one of three St. Louis-area nonprofits that have organized door-to-door crisis counseling for people affected by the New Year’s floods, received roughly $373,000 in federal disaster funding to start the program in March. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved additional funding of $1.1 million to keep the Show Me Hope effort going through the end of the year.

The three nonprofits will use the money to send 30 counselors to flood-damaged communities in St. Louis, Franklin, St. Charles, Lincoln and Jefferson Counties.

“We were able to show that this isn’t over yet," Bayliff said. "There are still a lot of people out of their homes, people still rebuilding, and are still very much in crisis situations.”  

Fenton resident Scott Bayliff, who coordinates the Show Me Hope response in St. Louis County, stands in his office at Places for People.
Credit Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio

Statistics gathered by the programs show the counselors had 392 meetings with people affected by the floods and held group sessions for 426 participants. They also sent emails, distributed fliers and staffed a crisis line in March and April.

Andrea Cuneio, project coordinator for the mental-health provider Comtrea in Jefferson County, said there’s a honeymoon period after a disaster when the community pulls together to rebuild. Her job starts right after that.

“Then we ask them, yeah but how are you doing," Cuneio said "Then the floodgates just open and they start talking. And they talk for an hour, or two hours, and they’ve never had a chance to just talk about it.” 

Show Me Hope counselors for Comtrea in a group photo. Back row, from left to right: Ashton Brackett, Patty Culbertson (Team Leader), Jenny Brewer, Kerri Dulaney, Andrea Cuneio. Front row: Alison Crane, Lindsey Shelton, Ashley Radford, Tiffany Johnson and Jamie Wertheimer.
Credit provided by Comtrea

“It’s always good when you work with a family and they say, 'you’re coming back next week, right?'” said Shelia Harris-Wheeler, who coordinates outreach in Franklin, St. Charles, and Lincoln Counties for Crider Health Centers. 

“It’s amazing how allowing someone to talk about their experiences, how it allows them to move forward and let go of some of the trauma that’s associated with a natural disaster,” she said.

To reach the Show Me Hope Program in St. Louis County, call 314-615-2130. To reach the Jefferson County program, call 636-321-0142. Franklin County’s program can be reached at 636-373-1690.  St. Charles and Lincoln counties can call 636-887-6413.

Follow Durrie on Twitter: @durrieB