Friends, Family, Neighbors, Houstonians, Fellow Humans,
West Street Recovery began as a few friends with a truck and inflatable kayak ferrying folks across the flood waters and sheltering those who couldn’t make it to family members in our own homes. After the worst danger passed, we moved onto feeding those in need and asking them directly what their friends, family, and neighbors required. This effort was followed by connecting donations from in and outside Houston to the mostly Black and Brown communities where we had been active. Even in the aftermath of Harvey, which showed so clearly our common humanity, these neighborhoods are being neglected by aid agencies and our governments. As we distributed these supplies we began gathering lists of houses that needed to be cleaned out. We have been coordinating volunteer crews to do this work. In addition we helped families fill out FEMA forms, access disaster aid through other organizations, attain medical supplies, and even get legal help if that was what they needed.
Today, as you drive through Houston, it’s easy to miss the neighborhoods still devastated by the flooding. It’s six weeks since Harvey, but WSR is still meeting elderly couples living in houses with flooded furniture and walls, families staying at their in-laws, where their four children share the couch and floor space, and households staying in tents on driveways because the temporary housing options offered to them are too far away from their jobs and schools. In these same neighborhoods, we’re meeting organizers who’ve been on the street identifying their community’s needs, individuals connecting truckloads of donations to families that lost everything, and community members who have visions for their communities where they have the resources, education, and connections to be a prospering, resilient, and self-reliant neighborhood.
West Street Recovery is a horizontal relief organization which aims to use the Harvey Recovery to build community power. Our driving principle is to work together with community members, not for them, or on their behalf. Our work is rooted in an understanding that certain communities were disproportionately impacted by Harvey because they lack access to resources and power, and that the same actors and forces which produced these inequities cannot be expected to adequately support these communities in recovery. We believe that the communities who were most harmed by Harvey are the people who best understand what can protect them in the future. The long term solutions to the problems that allowed the rain water to be so destructive need to be community driven, but residents need to be connected to the immense resources that currently exist to realize the future they envision. As an interclass, and interracial organization we are uniquely positioned to create these connections and help residents improve their neighborhoods in they ways they see fit.
Through our work, we have encountered many families that need ongoing support to rebuild their lives. We are currently working with over one hundred and fifty households who have been identified through canvassing efforts. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. This complexity means that depending totally on volunteer efforts is inadequate. To not only recover what was lost, but also to rebuild neighborhoods that are more resilient and powerful, and meet the needs of the families we work with, we need dedicated full-time staff. This will enable us to work with households on an individual basis connect them to people and places that can meet their immediate needs, organize volunteers to clean out and rebuild their homes and work with them to improve their lives.
One purpose of this fund raising campaign is to pay staff members assisting impacted families a fair and living wage.This fundraiser will also cover professional contract services provided by locally owned business in order to circulate funds in communities needing them the most and turning a catastrophe into an opportunity for job creation. In order to use the recovery to generate locally rooted economic growth, we will, whenever it is possible, continue purchasing the supplies we need for our efforts from businesses that are locally owned by People of Color and women.
To make these goals a reality, we need your help. Please support our effort to continue connecting communities to the resources and services they so badly need.
Money will be used for:
- Salaries for Full-time Staff members for the upcoming three months
- Professional Contracting services needed to rehabilitate homes
- Continue to purchase tools, supplies, tents, tarps, and other recovery needs
- Personal protective equipment to keep everyone safe and healthy
- Fuel and food for volunteers and team members doing the work
- Other needs that our impacted residents may need
Working with NuWaters Coop to bring healthy food to communities.
House cleanouts in the Mesa/Tidwell area.
West Street Recovery has been people helping each other directly.about stories. About relationships. About seeing each other’s humanity. And About learning each other’s stories
Early on we were fortunate to get to host a grandmother and son from Kashmere Gardens who brought warmth and good hearted sass into our home. After the rescues stopped, we sent bright eyed volunteers went to affected communities to do pop-up meal servinging in vacant lots and empty parking lots. Stores were closed. Churches were shuttered and managing their own water issues. We empowered folks of all walks of life to go out to their Houston neighbors and share food and supplies wherever they could put up a folding table.
After the food sharing slowed down and the house cleaning began, we started to spend get more time with residents. One of our favorite moments came during a BLMHOU cleanup day. Two of us were sent out in a car to find homes that needed more flood cleanup work. After much driving and a bit of confusion, we ended up on Rand Street in Kashmere Gardens. We approached a two story house which backs up to Hunting Bayou and a woman greeted us with a big smile and pointed to her house saying that we had arrived and she had been waiting for us. She walked us around her home which had mold 4 feet up the walls, her possessions were sopping wet all over the house, and when she opened the cabinet in the back it had hundreds of knitting patterns. We called the team to send volunteers directly over, as they were available. That afternoon, we were able to clear out 2 rooms and made a plan to come back the next day. We ended up working there all week.
Chatting with Ms Sandra while taking a break from the stench of mold, Ms Sandra told us that she had just come to realize the severity of living in the home as more and more mold was forming. That morning at church she prayed for someone to come to her home and work with her on the cleanout. As the other BLMHOU volunteers arrived, we realized we hadn’t gone to the address we were told. That address was two doors down. This is the story of West Street. We often don’t know where we are going, but we continue to find ourselves right where we are called to be.
It has been a blessing for me personally (Andrew), getting to know Ms Sandra. She gives me life and relationship advice that I cherish and I get to serve her by connecting her to resources.
A week later, after working at another home in the area we dropped in on Ms Sandra. One of our team members had stepped on a nail just as we wrapped up demoing for the day. Ms Sandra did not hesitate in getting a bottle of peroxide and cleaning out the foot. This was a wonderful moment to appreciate that we are there for each other. We are in this together.
As it turns out, Ms Sandra is an avid knitter for all types of things, but one of her projects is to knit blankets for premature babies born at a Houston area hospital. In this storm she lost most of her fabric and patterns, 60 years of life possessions, family photos, and all the things that make her house a home. A lifetime of memories and a collection of fabric on a path to be knitted into blankets of compassion, lost. This is not her first flood, but she wants it to be her last.
Ms Sandra is fortunate to already have a long term living situation starting later this year. She wants to sell her home, which is not a unique story in the area. She doesn’t have money to rebuild, let alone elevate the home to protect it from future storm waterfloods. West Street opposes gentrification based on motives of profit and sees the culture of neighborhoods like Kashmere Gardens as one worthy of preservation. There are already community organizations working on collective organizing buyouts or transfers of homes to those interested in preserving neighborhood culture. We aim to support those and other efforts that will build resiliency and self-reliant neighborhoods for future storms and for the overall well-being of black, brown, and poor communities.
The West Street Recovery Team
For more info, please visit: weststreetrecovery.org