Residents displaced by Drake Hotel fire seek more say over how donations are distributed

Victoria Jones
Victoria Jones and her family lost their home and possessions when the Francis Drake Hotel in Minneapolis was destroyed by fire on Christmas. She spoke at a news conference in Minneapolis on Friday.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Former residents of Minneapolis' Francis Drake Hotel and some groups working with them say the residents should be given money raised for them directly.

At a news conference Friday they also asked that the help being offered by multiple agencies be more streamlined and organized.

The hotel was destroyed by a Christmas Day fire which left about 250 residents without a place to live. Fundraising efforts in the wake of the fire brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars for residents.

Victoria Jones had been living at the Drake since November. She said she’d like more freedom to make decisions on what’s next for her and her family.

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"If they would actually just evenly take those funds the Minneapolis Foundation has received and split them between families, we can go find housing," she said.

The groups helping residents also said they’d like to see more culturally competent help — and more coordination so residents don’t have to repeatedly tell the story of losing their homes and belongings.

Samantha Pree-Stinson
Samantha Pree-Stinson speaks at a news conference with former residents of the Drake Hotel in Minneapolis on Friday.
Peter Cox | MPR News

"We don’t have to work with the government, we can choose to be a community and work at that level. But that is the problem. Everyone is working isolated, in their own silos," said Samantha Pree-Stinson, executive project director for the Association for Black Economic Power. "Nobody is talking to anyone else and it’s leading to all these discrepancies, the misinformation, and first and foremost the residents not being informed and continuing to be harmed."

So far, about $480,000 has been raised by the Minneapolis Foundation to help those affected by the fire. A statement on the foundation website said “deploying the entire fund in the form of checks to all the survivors would not give any of them sufficient resources to recover fully from this crisis. Supporting partner organizations on the ground that are working specifically with these individuals and families, and which specialize in disaster recovery, housing and other direct services, will help ensure that those affected by the fire receive equitable assistance that meets their individual needs.”

Demolition work on the fire-damaged Francis Drake Hotel
Demolition work on the fire-damaged Francis Drake Hotel continues on Friday.
Peter Cox | MPR News

Meanwhile, a temporary resource center opened Friday at Bethlehem Baptist Church in downtown Minneapolis, in an effort to create a "one-stop shop" for Drake residents.

Phil Hansen, executive director for the Minnesota Region of the American Red Cross, said those seeking help will each be assigned a volunteer to guide them through the various offerings.

"This is a place where people can come to one place and get a variety of services at one time. One of the challenges we've seen on disaster operations over the years is lots of organizations want to help and the families kind of have to go from place to place to place, and it can be difficult with transportation and other issues," he said. "So, what we try to do in the midst of a big operation like this is gather all of the partners together."

The resource center will be open through Saturday.