By Louise Scott, Gary Crusader
In 1996, Kirk Williams survived a tornado in Chattanooga, Tennessee, but discovered he had lost all of his material possessions in the aftermath. To add insult to injury, Williams didn’t get any help in terms of shelter, clothing or food. He says from that tragedy in his life he knows firsthand how difficult it is for someone who needs help to get it. That’s why he goes that extra mile to help people in disasters with his Disaster Relief Organization.
Immediately after the tornado in Chattanooga, Williams began helping others who were affected by the storm to varying degrees despite his own circumstances. It was the place that he started the Disaster Relief Organization. From there he moved to Chicago, Illinois where he continued his relief organization in 2002 and then, to Hammond, Indiana in 2006. He ended up in Gary in 2011 where it is currently established.
A barber and fulltime musician with the group Soulful Experience, Williams, age 45, opened his House of Refuge, located at 4631 20th Court, 3 years ago. According to him, it is the only Black-owned and operated disaster relief shelter in the State of Indiana. Williams has been operating the shelter for 19 years. He is currently applying to be a 501(c)(3).
Williams recalls how he was able to help a young woman and her three children, two of which were twins, who were burned out of their home. He said he gave them shelter, food, clothing and a place to stay in the House of Refuge for 14 days.
He said, “Although she had a job, she was unable to save her money until she moved into an apartment complex that her former landlord was able to help her find. So instead of going to a hotel, she didn’t have to spend any money and we were able to help her move with the help of our transportation.”
He said he started the House of Refuge because after three days in a hotel, a family still is homeless. This is why he decided to open a shelter to give them added time.
The House of Refuge can only hold one family at a time. They can stay 14 days free of charge. Food and toiletries are included. It is open to adults with children and can accommodate a family of five.
Williams said he tries to be the first response unit in the City of Gary. “We want to help victims get out of harm’s way and into a safe haven. It’s a cooling center in the summer and a warming center in the winter,” he said.
The state of Indiana has also experienced several disasters. In March of 1925 the longest, deadliest twister in American history (and the fourth of the 10 Worst Disasters of the Last 101 Years) whipped through four states, one of which was Indiana. It flattened 15,000 homes and killed nearly 700 people – 243 in one town alone.
In 2008, as heavy rain drenched the state of Indiana, several major rivers rose beyond riverbanks and flooded the state of Indiana. Out of 92 counties, 54 were affected by floodwater and major roads, including Interstate 65, were submerged and closed to traffic. Several neighborhoods in Indiana- polis were evacuated when the White River rose several feet above flood level. Over 100 hundred patients from a hospital were removed as a precaution. Three people drowned in Remington and Columbus.
Currently Williams has a GoFundMe.com/gpwtv4 page on Facebook. It is to raise $125,000 for the disaster relief shelter and transportation for victims of tragedy. He said the money raised will be used to purchase a two flat building, a warehouse and a First Response Recreational Vehicle, as well as a 16-foot van truck.
He said, “I’m trying to run this organization using my own finances, but I need help.”