Harvey One Year Later
One year after Hurricane Harvey inundated South Texas, the recovery process seems almost as random as the storm itself. How are people doing? It depends.
People with few resources are struggling, as if the storm had just hit. And for many, a nagging depression lingers. They know that full recovery is a long way away.
During a recent week in Texas, I met many people who are demonstrating remarkable resilience. After a long day at work, people return to their damaged homes to do more work, rebuilding walls and floors and, in the process, their lives.
The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, partner of Episcopal Relief & Development’s US Disaster program is filling many gaps, providing a variety of ministries. From rebuilding to mental health support, food subsidies, and community outreach, the church is making a difference.
For several months, volunteers with Mosaic, the outreach agency of St. Andrews, Episcopal Church in Pearland, TX, have been repairing the home of Norma, a single mom with four children ages 8-17. Norma works until 1 or 2 a.m. at a Chick-Fil-A restaurant. She also cares for four young children in her home during the day. The first child arrives at 5:30 a.m.
Norma’s family stayed in their house throughout Mosaic’s rebuilding. In December, I visited them when the work was just beginning. Now the children have their own, newly repaired rooms, and Norma has her own bedroom for the first time. She has decorated it with her favorite obsession—Mickey Mouse, a symbol of fun and happiness from her childhood in Mexico.
Norma’s modest house has been rebuilt better than it was before the storm—more privacy, better construction, raised flooring and a roof that doesn’t leak.
“I am so happy and so grateful,” she said, her whole face smiling.
The Rev. Stacy Stringer is the Director of Hurricane Recovery for the Diocese of Texas, a job she started in January. She learned about disaster preparedness and recovery the hard way, as the rector of Holy Trinity Church in Dickinson, where 80% of homes were damaged or destroyed.
Stacy recently hired Kécia Mallette, the Director of Operations at Holy Trinity. They are now managing the diocesan-wide recovery effort, and drawing on the experience they gained in Dickinson and Galveston County last fall.
Stacy told me “We no longer say, ‘if there’s another hurricane.’ Now we say, ‘when the next disaster hits…..”
Some effects of the storm are invisible. Mental health issues and domestic violence often crop up in the wake of devastating events like Harvey.
The Rev. Ed Gomez, vicar of St. Paul’s-San Pablo Episcopal Church near Houston’s Hobby airport, is dealing with these issues in his community.
In more than a few cases, storm-related job loss led to depression and anger. Some husbands became violent with their wives. Father Gomez describes a culture of silence about domestic violence because of shame or fear of a family being even worse off if the husband/father leaves.
Father Gomez, has just hired a full-time counselor, with support from the diocese and Episcopal Relief & Development. He expects many people in the community to make use of this important resource.
In Alvin, Texas, Tammy’s home on Chocolate Bayou was inundated by the flooding last year. In the chaos of getting out of the house, the family lost a pet cat, a favorite of seven year-old Scout. They have several kittens now and Scout never lets them out of her sight.
The family has lived in a hotel in Galveston, in Tammy’s parent’s antique store, and in a rented house on stilts. With St. Andrew’s help, and financial support from Episcopal Relief & Development, they recently moved back home. They are repairing the fragile structure where Tammy home-schools their four children.
Twin daughters Jaime and Jessica are set to begin community college this fall. Jaime lost most of her personal belongings in the flooding. She sometimes wakes up wondering, “Do I still have that?”
Tammy is making plans for the new school year. Her positive outlook sets the tone for the whole family, and she seems to boil things down to the most basics.
“You’ve been through so much,” she said, “You just want some peace and cleanliness.”
Many relief groups came to the aid of those who suffered but they only stay for a limited time. There is always another storm or fire or calamity that needs attention. They move on.
The church, however, is constant.
“Some of us,” said The Rev. Stringer, “are realizing for the first time how vital the church is for the health of our communities. We are the church that extends dignity to every human being with no strings attached. Some of us are really proud to be Episcopalian.”
Mike Smith is a Major Gift Officer for Episcopal Relief & Development.
Top: Norma Gallegos in her new bedroom. Her home is being rebuilt by St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Pearland, TX. Norma loves Mickey Mouse.
Middle 1: Neighbors work on damaged house in Conroe. They are rebuilding from the ground up.
Middle 2: 7 year-old Scout cuddles three of her kittens. She is rarely without one or more of her furry friends.