A Year after Harvey: 3 Ways We Still Need Help
It’s been one year since Harvey, and I still can’t take down the green Post-it from my fridge that lists the Coast Guard phone number. I’ll never forget the night we scrambled to move valuables to our second floor as the water crept closer and closer. We were the lucky ones. The water stopped short of our front porch. However, other friends wept as the water inundated, in some cases rising many feet, destroying everything. People had to call the Coast Guard for rescue, and when the Coast Guard couldn’t help, people in fishing boats like Louisiana’s Cajun Navy had to save the day. It wasn’t just houses that were affected, either. Churches, schools, and businesses filled with disgusting flood water, and some have never recovered. People still ask each other, “Did you flood?” in the same way you’d ask, “Where’re you from?”
I visited this morning with a friend who flooded but is now, thankfully, nearly finished restoring her home. However, she told me that she drove through a neighborhood recently where yards were nothing but barren dirt. House after house sat empty and dark. No one was coming back. She knew most of those residents were likely retirees like herself, and she wondered where they were all living and how they were coping with having to start over at 70 or 80 years of age.
Even for the many people who are getting back to normal, we wondered at the ripple effect of catastrophe for years to come. I mean, if I can’t take down a Post-It note and I never even flooded, I can only imagine the behind-the-scenes mental and physical health toll on those who DID flood. One article I read said unexplained respiratory problems continue to befuddle doctors and that many people with chronic conditions, from diabetes to depression, have had to postpone treatments or forego medication due to all manner of Harvey-related issues.
All that to say, yes we are Houston Strong here, but we are also Houston Healing. Need is still high, and I can think of at least three ways we still need help from each other and from those beyond our city:
- Help the Helpers – Not only did Houston nonprofits take on extra work to address extra needs, but they have had to do so with fewer financial donors. Houstonians are generous, but Harvey hit on top of major cutbacks in the oil and gas sector. Translation? Some of those who love to give financially were hit with a double-whammy of job and hurricane loss. People can’t give what they don’t have. If you’ve wondered whether there were still ways to assist recovery in Houston, then help the helpers keep doing their good work. One of my favorite agencies is Bridging for Tomorrow. They not only serve local families by providing for basic needs with their food pantry and by mentoring students in schools, but they provide free counseling services and health screenings. With some of the mental and physical health repercussions of Harvey just now surfacing, they will provide crucial assistance in my school district. Check them out here for a model of hands-on helping in our community.
- Listen to Survivors – Frankly, a lot of folks are exhausted and frustrated but trying to put on a brave face. As my friend said, “I had all these plans for the year and then had the rug pulled out from under me. Everything went by the wayside.” Who was that friend or acquaintance that you learned went through the flood? Call them or take them to coffee, and let them tell you how they are really doing without worrying that you’ll judge them for what they say. A lot of folks feel guilty because they see other people who are much worse off, but they need soul care, someone to say, “What you went through was hard, too, and I am so proud of how you’ve kept pushing forward. It’s ok to take care of yourself, too.” Others feel angry, and they may be acting different than the way they used to before the flood, for good reason! They have been under tremendous stress for a year, and I do not think the current political and cultural climate is helping things one bit. Where you can, then, lead with kindness and patience while they continue to heal.
- Support Proactive Solutions – Houston, we’ve still got a problem. We’ve flooded twice in two years and that means it will happen again. Like many folks around me, though, I just figured out THIS WEEK that there is a vote this Saturday, August 25, on a bond to raise money for much-needed improvements. Yes, they picked a bad time to have a vote—it’s not near regular elections, school just started back, and it’s on a Saturday when people get busy with other stuff—but it is Harvey’s anniversary. Yes, our state government should have done the right thing and released money from the Rainy Day fund, but that’s not going to help us right now. Yes, the federal government could free up more finances, but they allocate based on cost-benefit (dollar impact) rather than people-impact, which means, to quote the Houston Chronicle, “A flood control project that protects one family living in a $1 million house gets priority over another project protecting nine families living in $100,000 homes. Emmett and commissioners find that galling, and have vowed to invest flood bond funds in a way that prioritizes people over property values.” So that means I am setting an alarm on my phone to remind me to GO VOTE. Houston Strong means we look to ourselves and each other just as much as we welcome outside help.
We are rebuilding, and we are healing. We will be forever grateful to all who helped and are still helping. We just keep having to realize it takes a long time.