West Street Recovery (WSR) is a horizontally organized grassroots 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 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. As an interclass, interracial organization we are uniquely positioned to create these connections and help residents improve their neighborhoods in ways they see fit.
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. We spent another three weeks 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 had been addressed, we moved on to gutting over 60 homes. Recently, we have focused our efforts on rebuilds and case management. We are thankful for the volunteer network that we have cultivated throughout this process, and owe our accomplishments to all of the people who have lent their time to distribution, mucking and rebuild efforts.
Case Management—WSR is currently providing stipends to three community members who are managing over 200 different addresses in the Lakewood area on a case management basis. We strive to connect these families with the material, medical, and legal resources that are available to Houstonians but can be difficult to navigate or learn about.
Rebuilding Homes—We are working to provide as many families as possible with the materials needed to build out at least one bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchen. The majority of the donations we receive go toward the materials and tools necessary for these rebuilds. We also work to secure donated and low-cost materials and access resource banks for appliances and furniture to distribute to homes in need.
Community Organizing —WSR regularly engages with the network of recovery programs throughout Houston. Bureaucratic structures of corporate charities and governmental organizations often create an inflexible, inefficient, and ill-informed approach to recovery. To improve relief programming, we relay the stories, needs, and desires of the communities we work with to these organizations. In giving voice to the lived experiences of impacted populations, we strive to inform current and future disaster recovery response for vulnerable communities.
WSR has a vision that the community we are helping recover today, can organize before the next disaster hits. Since our organization was founded, we have worked closely with community members and learned a lot about their views and experiences with the existing institutions, churches, and government agencies. With that in mind, a year and a couple of months later, we’ve had our first two community meetings. A variety of people have participated, (some who bring experience and some new to organizing) and are empowering themselves with as much knowledge and as many tools as possible to begin organizing themselves and creating a working group that best suits them and their evolving goals.