There are currently about 42,000 people living in American Red Cross shelters in Texas and Louisiana as a result of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall last Friday (August 25). And per various reports, the organization—which former President Barack Obama and others urged people to donate to—has had a disappointing response to the crisis.
According to an article on Tuesday (August 29) in the Houston Chronicle, Houston’s mayor Sylvester Turner said the city is "still waiting on FEMA and the Red Cross to provide the necessary supplies and staffing for all of the shelters that exist and those that may be needed.”
In the same article, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett said that he "didn’t want to throw anybody under the bus," but the Red Cross "can’t get anything done."
However, on Wednesday’s "Morning Edition" on NPR, Red Cross executive Brad Kieserman said the organization had spent more than $50 million on Harvey relief as of that morning, with the money going to 232 shelters for 66,000 people.
The show’s host, Ailsa Chang, asked Kierserman, "Through donations, how much of every dollar goes to relief?"
Kieserman responded, "Yeah, I don’t think I know the answer to that any better than the chief fundraiser knows how many, how much it costs to put a volunteer down range for a week and how many emergency response vehicles I have on the road today. So I think if he was on this interview and you were asking how many relief vehicles in Texas, I don’t think he’d know the answer, and I don’t know the answer to the financial question, I’m afraid."
The host chose to press Kieserman for information on how much was going to relief because of past reports of how the agency has handled donations.
In 2006, nearly one year after Hurricane Katrina—which displaced more than 1 million people in the Gulf region—The New York Times published an article on how international monitors found the Red Cross’s reponse to be dangerously insufficient:
The American Red Cross response to Hurricane Katrina was poorly planned, relied too heavily on inexperienced managers and often failed to meet the needs of victims, according to international Red Cross officials who were dispatched to assist their American counterparts.
Five years later, the agency came under fire again for its response to the earthquake that hit Haiti. Per a Colorlines article, “An investigation by ProPublica and NPR in 2015 claimed the agency built only six homes with the $500 million it received in donations after the 2010 earthquake which devastated the country.” In addition, a quarter of the money donated went toward internal spending, for a total of $124 million.
A Newsweek article published yesterday (August 31) detailed other accusations that the Red Cross mismanaged donations and response to disasters. Examples included Hurricane Sandy, which devastated parts of New York and New Jersey in 2012, and 2016’s catastrophic flooding in Louisiana.
Regarding the flood, Colorlines previously reported, “Hundreds of Louisiana government documents and emails between officials obtained by ProPublica through freedom of information requests show widespread mismanagement and understaffing at Red Cross-run shelters. Some evacuees went hungry, thirsty and without medical attention as a result.”
Red Cross spokesperson Bristel Minsker told The Washington Post on Monday (August 28) that she found the backlash “heartbreaking” and when people donate, the organization “makes sure the donations are spent wisely to provide people in need with safe shelter, hot meals and health care.”
Yet, repeated investigations into the Red Cross’ handling of donations has prompted various organizations and news agencies to promote alternative ways to send money and supplies to help those affected by Harvey. Colorlines’ suggestions can be found here.