89-year-old denied FEMA assistance 4 times after home destroyed in Harvey

HOUSTON (KTRK) -- As Houston moves into its third month of recovery from Harvey, 89-year-old Rita Barbers visits the home she was forced to leave after the storm. She sits in her garage, with the door open, waiting for FEMA assistance to arrive.

It's been a long wait.

Today, she paid her fifth visit to the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center at Greenspoint Mall. Her nephew, Thomas Robbins drove her there, but it upsets him.

"She cries every time she walks into that building," he said.

Robbins sits in on the FEMA interviews.

"There were three cases of attempted fraud," he said. "Someone else trying to file a flood claim using her address and we had to prove that her house wasn't a mobile home."

The Barbers house was the first one built on the street in the Roan Oaks neighborhood decades ago.

Her application was denied, and she appealed. Federal assistance is the only way she would be able to repair her house, although neighbors were kind enough to gut the house after the water receded. It was three feet high during the height of Harvey.

Barbers doesn't have a computer, and she's not the only one in this established northeast Houston community.

"They fall through the cracks,' said Kathy Blueford-Daniels, a community advocate. "People in their 70's, 80's and 90's aren't all computer literate and don't have the patience to sit through phone prompts to deal with FEMA. I'm worried about them."

We followed Barbers and her nephew to the Greenspoint FEMA Center. Director Danny Jackson said he cannot discuss individual cases, but said that incomplete information, missing documents often delay the process.

"Sometimes it requires several trips to get everything in order," he said.

More than 11 thousand applicants have gone through the Greenspoint center.

We waited for Barbers to return to the shell of the home where she lived with her late husband and raised her family. When she arrived, she said, "This is the first time I haven't cried when I saw the house."

Nothing had changed at the house, but she said FEMA had.

"It was my fifth trip there, but this time, everything changed. They had people who cared, and listened to me. They told me my claim was no longer 'denied,' but marked as pending."

"God listens and I have so many people here who were concerned about me," she said.

The deadline for applying for FEMA assistance from Harvey is Nov. 30.

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