MILWAUKEE -- A controversial policy change made by Southeast Wisconsin chapter of the American Red Cross will be extended. The new policy ended on-site disaster relief in 10 Milwaukee ZIP codes -- a move that has drawn criticism.
The D.K. Mini Market stands out at the corner of 35th and Lisbon in Milwaukee. It's in the 53208 zip code, one of the zip codes where volunteers no longer provide on-site relief. With a paint job featuring several murals on its exterior, the store stands out.
"I wanted to put an eye-catcher out there and that's what I did," said Kenneth Mills, who owns the store.
Mills said he opened the shop about 6 months ago. Mills said he's bothered by the knowledge he lives in an area that would get treated differently in case of a disaster than people in other parts of the city. Under the change, victims in the affected zip codes would have to meet volunteers at a nearby police station or at the organization's office at 26th and Wisconsin.
"You'll come to their site and help (people not in the 10 zip codes) without going to the police station," said Mills. "It really sounds kind of different. It don't sound equal to me."
Critics of the policy have said the affected areas are in predominantly black and Hispanic ZIP codes, while predominantly white areas are not included.
Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett on Tuesday, January 2nd spoke out about his meeting with American Red Cross Southeast Chapter Regional CEO Patty Flowers.
"The issue of race certainly came up and the need to make sure that low-income people, who are the victims of fires, that they also receive the same treatment others receive," Mayor Barrett said.
Mayor Barrett confirmed the meeting happened Tuesday morning.
"It was a very open, candid conversation," Barrett said. "I would say it was a good conversation, but I think we agree there's more work that needs to be done."
The Red Cross said in a statement Sunday the policy will be extended to other parts of the city starting in January. Flowers said last week the policy changes are based on where the most fires happen and to let families meet with Red Cross volunteers in a warm and safe place.
Barrett said following the meeting both he and Flowers agreed the concerns reflect a need to draw more volunteers who live in the central city.
"Look, you can find good people in all these neighborhoods who will be willing to step forward to help others in a time of need and you can work through the churches, you can work through community groups," Barrett said.
Barrett added that the Red Cross had added a map reflecting new locations added to the expanded policy. No such map was posted on the organizations website or its social media platforms. In a statement Tuesday, Flowers reiterated the policy will be extended to other parts of Milwaukee. She added specifics would be released in "a few days."
Mills said, whatever the policy, Red Cross disaster assistance should be a bright spot for everyone during a dark time.
"You gotta treat everyone the same," Mills said. "Everyone's going through the same struggle."
The statement released Tuesday by the Red Cross reads in part:
"The American Red Cross understands that a recent change in our home fire response procedures in Milwaukee has created concerns. We apologize for any misunderstanding as it was absolutely not our intent to offend anyone.
Moving forward, the Red Cross will continue to evaluate our response procedure to ensure both consistency and the safety of our volunteers and the people we serve. The Red Cross will also be reaching out and meeting with local community groups and local officials int he days and weeks ahead.
Every year, the American Red Cross responds to nearly 64,000 disasters around the country, most of which are home fires. This is not changing in Milwaukee. The Red Cross will continue to help any person in need after a home fire, regardless of their ZIP code.
We will always respond and assist anyone who has a house fire. Since December 22, we have assisted at seven fires under this new procedure. All families were taken care of and we will work with them in the weeks ahead as they recover. We are working to expand this new procedure to other parts of Milwaukee."
To read the full statement, CLICK HERE.