New American Red Cross CEO talks about website issues, hurricane relief, volunteers

Henry Van De Putte is the new Red Cross CEO for the Texas Gulf Region

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - When floodwaters hit Houston after Hurricane Harvey, Houstonians turned to the American Red Cross for food, shelter and the promise of a $400 disaster relief check.

Millions of donations poured in, but there were big problems.

Tanya Cowley was one homeowner who lost everything, and in desperate need she applied for the $400 in relief from the Red Cross.

She never got it.

“If you’re going to accept me and you want to help me, great, but don’t tell me you’re going to give me something and help me and not,” Cowley said. “It breaks your heart.”

Now, the Red Cross has a brand new director for Houston.

Henry Van de Putte takes over as regional CEO for the Texas Gulf Region, and during an interview with Channel 2, Van de Putte said the organization passed out $230 million across the region, including $132 million in Harris County alone.

Van de Putte said fixing the computer systems is an ongoing process.

“We’re doing things every day,” he said. “Our teams of volunteers and our staff are doing everything we can to make sure we’re ready for this hurricane season.”

Van de Putte said the Red Cross raised over $500 million for Hurricane Harvey, roughly $300 million of which was spent on initial response, sheltering and mental health contacts.

About $180 million will go to helping victims with long-term recovery, Van de Putte said.

Van de Putte also added that the amount of individual donors is “unprecedented” this year, that the organization honors intent of donors so that funds are used in a specific area donors want, and that his No. 1 priority going forward is to recruit more volunteers to increase the organization’s manpower.

The American Red Cross issued the following statement:

"According to American Red Cross records, Tanya Cowley applied for Red Cross immediate financial assistance. However, her application was marked as “pending” as two other people living at the same address had already applied for and received assistance from the Red Cross. On November 15, 2017, the Red Cross sent a text to Ms. Cowley asking her to answer additional questions so that we could process her application. Ms. Cowley did not respond to that text. After not receiving a response, Ms. Cowley’s application was closed in December 2017.  A Community Recovery Specialist from the Red Cross contacted Ms. Cowley last week and efforts are underway for her to connect with a Disaster Case Manager.

"As Henry mentioned last week, today the Red Cross is providing financial assistance for households in need of recovery assistance and whose homes experienced major damage or were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey. Eligibility for this new program is not related to any previous financial assistance provided by the Red Cross last fall."

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