The Francis Drake Hotel fire took Victoria Jones’ home and almost all her possessions — including records that could prove she ever owned them.
So Jones and other former Drake residents were angered when the property manager asked them to submit photographs and receipts if they wanted to make insurance claims.
“How are they expecting us to get those documents? They burned in the fire,” Jones said Friday. “We weren’t expecting a fire to happen, so we weren’t thinking about grabbing receipts and everything else.”
After the Christmas Day fire at the old hotel, which also served as an overflow homeless shelter, Minneapolis officials have described the building as a “total loss” and said it was too dangerous to let residents back in. Most of the building, at 416 S. 10th St., had been torn down by Friday.
David Anderson, an attorney representing the company that managed the property, said that as of Friday afternoon he had not received any claims from residents seeking reimbursement for their destroyed items.
For some of the residents, the claims process is the latest in a string of frustrations. Some have said they don’t think the aid efforts have matched all of their needs.
People came to live at the Drake Hotel through different circumstances. Some were placed there as part of Hennepin County’s overflow shelter program. Others found it on their own and paid to stay there. Some worked there.
Multiple residents, including Jones, have said that they did not sign leases with the property management company but instead paid for their rooms on a short-term basis.
Samantha Pree-Stinson, executive project director for the Association for Black Economic Power, said she has heard similar stories from other residents, and the lack of a lease made it difficult for people to secure renter’s insurance on their own.
The Drake Hotel is owned by the Leamington Co., whose CEO Brian Short said they did not have an insurance policy of their own. Instead, Leamington is listed on a policy purchased by Drake Hotel Properties, which leased the property and ran the day-to-day operations.
Anderson, who represents Drake Hotel Properties, is helping to collect insurance claims. It’s too early to tell how much money the company will receive from insurance or how much of that will go to residents.
“While this is a very public story, the claims process at this time is a private/confidential matter between my client and any claimants,” Anderson said in an e-mail, adding later: “We will endeavor to fairly and appropriately handle claims as they are presented to the extent of insurance coverage and Minnesota Law.”
It could take 30 to 45 days for residents to receive responses to their claims, according to the letter they received.
But some are hoping for more immediate help. Much of the money raised by the Minneapolis Foundation has gone to nonprofits, which then provide services, gift cards or cash to the residents. The foundation has said that it is not set up to provide services directly, so it partners with organizations that can.
But some residents have said they feel they would benefit most from having direct access to money, or having someone send money for a deposit, rent or application fees to a landlord on their behalf.
Mysnikol Miller, a North Side resident who works with the Folwell Neighborhood Association, said she has spoken to residents who had to repeat their traumatic stories multiple times while trying to get different forms of help. Some of them need things that aren’t being provided, such as a computer to do work online, she said. Many of the former Drake residents are black, she said.
“When trauma comes to the black community, many times the resources and the systems that show up do not reflect the culture and the people that are being harmed and, therefore, do not have the level of sensitivity to the trauma that people are going through,” Miller said.
Her association received $25,000 from the Minneapolis Foundation, which she said is being used for rental assistance.
But her organization and the Association for Black Economic Power are also stepping up their own efforts to help residents who want more direct access to money or help with rent.
It’s help that people like Jones appreciate more than gift cards.
“We don’t need you to help us determine where we’re going and how we’re going to do it. We can do it ourselves,” Jones said. She added later: “With the gift cards that you’re giving us, we could have taken that and paid the rent and down payment on housing.”