West Street Recovery

WHO WE ARe

West Street Recovery (WSR) is a horizontally structured grassroots organization which aims to use the disaster recovery process to build community power. Our work is rooted in an understanding that disasters amplify previously existing inequalities. There are no natural disasters: the destruction of climate disasters is produced by social, racial, and political factors. Throughout the disaster recovery process, marginalized people and their communities are denied access to resources and influence; the same actors and forces which produced these inequities cannot be expected to deliver a just recovery. We aim to shift resources and decision-making power to flood survivors and frontline communities, because the people most harmed by storms are also the ones who best understand what can protect them in the future.
By providing essential services, such as home repair, fınancial assistance, and case management, to flood survivors, WSR helps to develop bonds between people of different backgrounds, and these relationships are the building blocks of our interclass and interracial community. This network is oriented towards both improving people’s lives materially and building political power for residents of northeast Houston.

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Mission Statement

West Street Recovery’s mission is to connect communities to the resources that they need to not only rebuild after climate disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, but to build communities that are resilient,  secure and stronger than before. 

Our Beginnings

WSR began during Hurricane Harvey 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. We spent the month after flooding coordinating and distributing tens of thousands of dollars in supplies and meals to residents in Kashmere Gardens, Trinity Gardens and Lakewood, neighborhoods that the larger aid organizations were slow to reach. After immediate survival needs were addressed, WSR moved on to gutting homes and over time we helped to remove the flooded furniture, walls, cabinets and other porous materials from over 75 homes. 

Since then, WSR has grown into a year-round nonprofit that has responded to multiple subsequent disasters including Tropical Storm Imelda in 2019 the Covid 19 pandemic and Winter Storm Uri in 2021.

Read More about the history of WSR in our Base Doc

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Vision

WSR has a vision that the community we are helping recover today, can organize and become more resilient before the next disaster hits. We imagine a future where networks of community members operating in solidarity and mutual respect make the city of Houston resilient in the face of natural and manmade disasters.  We imagine a future where the solutions to disasters do not further embed the processes that have made residents both economically and environmentally vulnerable, but instead are the beginnings of locally rooted  growth that strengthens communities, empowers residents and builds resilience.

Our Community

Our community is made up of five overlapping elements who work together to govern WSR and deepen our own leadership abilities, repair homes, build community power and develop social actors from within the neighborhood who can effect the changes needed for an equitable Harvey recovery, and to make the world more just and humane.

FOUNDERS AND STAFF: WSR was founded as a community-level response to Hurricane Harvey and continues to be democratically led by this group of 12-15 people who make strategic decisions through consensus. Eight of these core members are the staff of WSR.

FLOOD-IMPACTED RESIDENTS: WSR has a caseload of 275 households, about 100 of who are in close contact with WSR, and over 100 of whom have received signifıcant material aid, in the form of home repair, mucking and gutting, or direct fınancial assistance.

VOLUNTEERS AND ALLIES: WSR has worked with over 400 volunteers, and has a core group of approximately 35 volunteers who have invested signifıcant time into the organization. We also work with many closely allied advocacy and organizing groups with whom we have relationships of mutual support.

CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTORS AND RESIDENT WORKERS: WSR has 5-10 consistent contractors and 25 day laborers that help shape and lead our rebuild work. We focus on hiring people who live in the neighborhoods where we work, friends and families of clients, and those who were also affected by the hurricane.

COMMUNITY GROUPS: Two distinct community groups driven by residents and flood survivors themselves have emerged within the broader West Street community. The Northeast Action Collective is organizing on issues of inadequate drainage in northeast Houston, while the Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus is demanding fair treatment from the city of Houston’s Home Repair program. Read more about these groups on our community organizing page.

Staff bios

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Doris Brown (She /Her, born 1949)

Doris is West Street Recovery’s Co-Director of Community Research, Organizing, and Special Events. She is also a co-founder of the NORTHEAST ACTION COLLECTIVE (NAC). She graduated from HCC with a degree in Human Service Technology and Certification in Mental Health. In 2016 she graduated from University of Houston with a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies. She joined staff at West Street in June of 2020.

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Ben Hirsch (Her/Him, born 1989)

Ben is West Street recovery’s Co-Director of Organizing, Research and Development. He has worked with WSR since its founding and has helped to launch the Harvey home repair program, found the Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus, and initiated community research efforts. He is a graduate of the LBJ school of Public Affairs where he studied the intersection of poverty and the environment and alternative forms of governance. He has done organizing work on environmental justice, and economic justice since participating in resistance to the G-20 Summit in Toronto, ON in 2009.

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Felix Kapoor (He/Him, born 1987)

Felix is West Street Recovery’s Co-Director of Operations & Rebuild Efforts, and Community Organizing. Felix started as a volunteer for West Street during Hurricane Harvey, and was hired on full time staff in May of 2019. Some of Felix’s accomplishments within West Street include launching our Harvey Repair Program and Winter Storm Uri Programs, growing the Northeast Action Collective, supporting our Covid19 cash distribution program, launching our Language Justice interpretation training, and is a fellow of the inaugural resiliency fellowship hosted by ConnectiveHTX. Felix is a native Houstonian and loves to run, bike, cook, and seek out hammocks to lay in.

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Alice Liu (She/Her, born 1999)

Alice is West Street Recovery’s Co-Director of Communications, Rebuild and Fundraising. She interned for West Street in the summer of 2020, and returned as staff in January of 2021. Alice leads WSR’s communications program, including social media, email, website, and media. Since Winter Storm Uri Alice has also helped coordinate plumbing and home repairs for impacted families. Alice has organized for climate and environmental justice in Houston for over 3 years, starting when she was a student at Rice University.

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Andrew Barley (He/Him, born 1989)

Andrew is the Co-Director of Rebuild Efforts and Disaster Preparation Services. He has worked with West Street Recovery since its founding. Barley (he’s got a weird affinity for his last name) helped launch West Street’s home repair program and is currently most excited for West Street’s community led Disaster Prep program. He is currently a student at the University of St. Thomas where he is joint majoring in international studies and political science.

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Becky Selle (She/They, born 1992)

Becky is West Street Recovery’s Co-Director of Organizing, Research & and Rebuild. She joined West Street two weeks after Harvey through mucking homes and since has helped cocreate the home repair program, initiate community research efforts, develop the Northeast Action Collective and cofound the Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus. She has grown the West Street Community through organizing alongside other Houston groups, developing our volunteer program and base, inviting Harvey survivors into our organizing, advocacy, and rebuild work, and developing our practice of popular education and horizontality. Her background is in medical engineering, public health, and outdoor education.

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Cavanaugh Nweze (He/Him) 

Cav is West Street Recovery’s accountant and bookkeeper, as well as a financial professional, farmer, published writer, and a nationally recognized community Leader. In 2006, while working on his Bachelors of Accounting Degree at Prairie View A&M University, Cavanaugh founded Divine Leaders, Inc., an educational and community service non-profit organization.

Through Divine Leaders, Inc., he has established the Marcus Garvey Liberation Garden, The Bi-Annual Greater Houston Urban Garden Festival, an edible landscaping program dubbed ‘Grub Not Grass’, and the Living Grocery Store; A traveling produce stand. These programs reflect his passion for agriculture, sustainable living, and destroying food deserts in his City. As the Divine Leaders Inc. founder, Cavanaugh has begun to share his expertise in the garden by hosting Raised Bed Garden classes where people participate in a hands-on course where installing garden spaces into homes. He has also participated in several documentary shorts in hopes to bring the idea of growing food back into the heart of his Community.

Cavanaugh is a Native Texan with Nigerian roots. As an addition to his work as a activist, Cavanaugh is the founder and Managing Partner at Nweze Financial Solutions LLC. By providing accounting and profession financial services, Cavanaugh has been able to marry his accounting and activist expertise by providing immediate economic assistance to numerous individuals lacking access to ethical financial expertise.

Northeast Houston

Since Harvey, West Street Recovery’s (WSR) work has been concentrated in four zip codes in Northeast Houston: 77016, 77026, 77028 and 77078. This is a high poverty area with very low median incomes and home values. Most of the community members we work with are Black or Hispanic – there are very few white residents.

A combination of physical geography and centuries of irresponsible development practices puts Northeast Houston, like many other parts of the city, at extreme risk of flooding. The past two decades have seen increasingly frequent and severe rainfall events, making household names out of Allison (2001), Ike (2008), Tax Day (2015), Memorial Day (2016), Harvey (2017), and Imelda (2019). 20 years of persistent flooding have profoundly reshaped individuals’ and communities’ relationships to their homes. The flood danger is compounded by the concentration of hazardous facilities and emission sites in this area, sources of toxins that are then spread indiscriminately by floodwaters. 

Northeast Houston is split between the Halls Greens Bayou watershed in the north and Hunting Bayou in the south. During Harvey, Hunting Bayou watershed had the highest proportion of housing units flooded, and Halls Green Bayou had the highest number of units flooded of any Bayou in Harris county. Despite the clear and urgent need for aid, a shockingly high proportion of residents who applied for help from FEMA or large aid nonprofits were denied.

The result of unjust baseline conditions and inadequate response from the government and the disaster recovery apparatus after Harvey is that, over 3 years later, many households in NE Houston have yet to recover from Harvey. Some of those households have already flooded multiple times since then.

Our Values and Organizing Practices

"We must be the values that we say we’re struggling for and we must be justice, be peace, be community" - Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing

Our organizing practices, including our relationships with community members and with each other, are greatly inspired by the Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing. 

West Street Recovery uses community organizing and recovery services as mutually reinforcing activities to build a network of people who can take care of each other, teach and learn from each other, and collectively fıght for a better world. We prioritize building relationships and working together, and conceptualize the services we provide as an entry point for sustained social engagement and support. 

Disaster recovery is stressful, and prioritizing deep relationships over narrow efficiency makes our work more sustainable through inevitable future disasters. It is our goal to continue building the WSR community that can both pressure the state and large private organizations to enact policies that promote justice and equity, and take care of each other in the present world that continues to disadvantaged neighborhoods like those in Northeast Houston.

Horizontal organization – While we work on discrete projects and focus on our strengths, all day team staff share responsibility and power to lead essential activities of the organization, including leading construction projects, talking to media, community organizing, political advocacy, fundraising, and administration. 

Consensus decision making and rotating facilitation are systems that open space for everyone in WSR to influence each other and ultimately shape the decisions we make. Sharing power in such a diverse group requires processes that alter standard patterns of conversations and advance our mutual understanding. These procedures act as an impediment to replicating the same hierarchies (based in wealth, race, age, education level, gender, or disability) that we see in the world around us. 

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