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.
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. Recently, we have focused our efforts on repairing badly damaged homes, case management, policy advocacy and community organizing.
WSR has a vision that the community we are helping recover today, can organize and become more resilient before the next disaster hits. Since our organization was founded, we have worked closely with community members and learned about their frustrating experiences with the existing institutions, like non profits, churches, and government agencies. With that in mind, we have sought to have the community we serve direct our own work, and we have helped to form a grassroots neighborhood based organization called the Northeast Action collective that meets monthly to organize strategies to improve their community.
Case Management: WSR has three Case managers who have worked with over 200 different households in Northeast Houston. Of these cases, 75-100 households have received direct material assistance from our group and are in close and consistent contact with our staff. Other cases have had help with successfully applying to other organizations, receiving alerts about opportunities to receive donated materials and assistance, and being invited to participate in community organizing efforts.
Rebuilding Homes: WSR completes small repairs that help families move towards a full recovery. In addition, we undertake complete repair of a small number of homes for families that cannot qualify for other rebuilding programs. We have fully repaired five homes, and aim to complete 13 more complete renovations before June of 2020. In our rebuilding efforts we work to provide gainful employment to local residents who also are struggling to recover from Harvey. We believe that this roots the economic impact of our work in the community and will improve resilience in the future.
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 addition we are engaged in a long term community organizing project in the 77078 area, working towards building community capacity and exploring ways to improve disaster preparedness. The group of residents has chosen the name Northeast Action Collective, and hosted their first ever event May 18, which you can read about here.
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.