North Minneapolis tornado victims have been forgotten

Officials moved on, but neighborhood never got help

The city held a volunteer day soon after the storm and moved all of the debris on the Porters' property to the backyard. But they never came back to remove it entirely. The couple did that themselves.

Since they had moved into the house only two months prior, not all of the inspections were complete. The railings on the deck, for example, weren't up to code. Two weeks after the tornado, the Porters received a letter from the city stating that they had until the end of the month to bring the railings into compliance "or face civil or criminal charges." The only problem was that the tornado had blown away the entire deck.

"It was an automatic letter, claiming they'd sent an inspector to our home, which they hadn't," recalls Marie, seething. "This was two weeks after the tornado, and they're worried about deck railings. No one thought to put a stop to those notices."

"We are tornado victims. We should be getting help."

Mark N. Kartarik
DeWayne Thornton and his family stayed in their home, which was condemned by the city even though it was structurally sound
Mark N. Kartarik
DeWayne Thornton and his family stayed in their home, which was condemned by the city even though it was structurally sound

Dennis and Deborah Parker have put in years of hard work at their jobs, faithfully paid their taxes, and rarely asked for help. But earlier this year they lost their jobs.

When the tornado destroyed their rental home, their family of seven was forced to seek refuge in the local Armory and at the North Commons Recreation Center. For weeks, they and their five children slept on cots on the floor of a gymnasium. But with five children—one of whom is 21 and has a mental disability—they found that the shelters offered by the city weren't the right fit. Instead they spent weeks in limbo in an extended-stay hotel room in Brooklyn Center.

"It's kind of hard to find housing when you have a large family," says Deborah, noting that it would mean abandoning their eldest son to the street.

Dennis and Deborah boasted long histories of stable employment before the storm. He was a welder and a restaurant cook. She worked in the hotel industry for more than 15 years and was a manager of major hotels. "I have paid taxes," Deborah says. "I didn't ask the state for anything—until the storm."

"We are tornado victims," adds Dennis. "We should be getting help.... To make a long story short, nothing is happening."

"I feel stuck in a rut."

A couple of days after the tornado, Tiffany's house began to smell bad. She and her fiancé, Jeff, investigated and realized the problem wasn't a backed-up sewer system, but rather a faulty pipe that had been cracked when a tree fell on it. Now, whenever a toilet was flushed in the house, raw sewage would dump out the ceiling and into the basement.

Tiffany and Jeff called a city inspector but received no response. Their landlord wouldn't reply either. A neighbor told them that the smell of feces was routine in that house. Inspectors didn't condemn the house until June 8, two and a half weeks after the tornado.

The couple and Tiffany's boys, ages seven and three, left that night and tried to move into a shelter together. But since they weren't married, and since the shelter was nearly full, it couldn't legally take Jeff—who had to sneak in and avoid detection.

After two weeks of sleeping on cots on the gym floor at North Commons, Tiffany and Jeff learned that they could stay for four months, rent free, in a home at 14th and Upton that attorney Larry Shapiro had opened up to homeless north Minneapolis residents. Those four months ended on October 31.

"This has been a wonderful house, with brand new stuff," recalls Tiffany. "It let me know what the standards are."

Tiffany won $1,600 from her landlord in reconciliation court, but he has not paid her the amount yet. Both she and Jeff are jobless: She has worked as a caretaker for handicapped children, and Jeff's work at a rehab center ended when the state government shut down in July. They've pursued various employment agencies, but to no avail, leaving Tiffany and Jeff nearly broke and practically homeless.

Tiffany has decided to move back to Chicago, where she came from in 2005, and live with her mom. Tiffany says that her priority is for the boys not to miss any school, and she wants to get them into a stable home.

"I've always had jobs and been self-sufficient," Tiffany says. "But now I feel categorized as a stereotypical black female. I feel stuck in a rut."

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