West Street Recovery (WSR) is a horizontally organized grassroots non-profit organization which aims to use efforts toward recovery after Hurricane Harvey to build community power. We believe that the people who were most harmed by Harvey are the ones who best understand what can protect them in the future. We are committed to create these connections and help residents improve their neighborhoods in ways they see fit.
Sending Love! and: RE COVID19 (March 19, 2020)
|Dear Friends, Family and supporters of West Street Recovery,|
First and foremost, we hope that you all are in good health, that no one you are close to is suffering and that you are feeling connected and supported in this unprecedented and extremely difficult time. COVID19 has fundamentally disrupted our lives and fills the very air with uncertainty. We love you all and want you to know that we are thinking of you with kindness.
This virus reveals the ways in which we are all connected to each other across our city and our world. To go even deeper, COVID19 shows that our usual distinction between humanity and nature, which gives us a sense of control and order, is an abstraction which hides the ways all life on our planet is intertwined. We at WSR have seen this over the last two and a half years, as flooding, mold, poverty, race, policy, energy use, and pollution come together in the homes so many of you have helped us repair.
Despite the flux, we are confident in our values, and believe that our approach is still important in this moment. We know that we need to break down barriers between people, and develop our sense of empathy as a society, even as we practice social distancing. We know that the most marginalized among us will bear the brunt of this pandemic and the economic shock it is already creating. We know that community is central to support, even as we invent new ways of being in community without being in the same space. (you can see one of our attempts to do that in the picture of our first ever NAC zoom call below.) It is uplifting and inspiring to see all the ways people are sharing their resources and skills, from free education tools to sharing seeds to sharing their income with people suddenly out of work, purely to support common well being . We hope this spirit, which has always been central to the work of WSR, continues to spread even beyond the pandemic and we create a world centered in love, joy, and taking care of each other and the earth.
|Yesterday, as a group, we formulated a set of demands (copied at the bottom of this message) that if enacted by our national, state, and local governments would greatly reduce the harm of the coronavirus. We encourage you to do whatever you can to make these demands come true, from calling your representatives, writing a letter to your local paper or speaking to your friends and family. The virus has shaken some fundamental assumptions about our world which is very scary. But if we focus and are brave, it can also be an opening. An opening from which a society truly based in justice, inclusion, dignity and freedom can emerge. (If we are missing a demand you think is essential please let us know!)|
In this moment, community is more important than ever. Please feel free to reach out, stay connected and join us however you can. Our work is continuing and being re-articulated during this time, and we will send updates of how we as an organization are going to continue to serve and walk alongside all of our residents. We love you all, hope you take care, get sleep and wash your hands!
As always we need support, but understand that many of you are probably worried about your financial future. Please consider giving if you can.
West Street Recovery is a grassroots disaster recovery organization that works with marginalized communities in Northeast Houston. The risk of COVID19 cannot be contained to select neighborhoods or subpopulations, but the residents we have walked alongside since Hurricane Harvey have been living with the impacts of disasters for years. Because the virus hurts those with damaged lungs, flood survivors who have faced persistent mold exposure face greater risk. Furthermore, NE Houston residents are exposed to disproportionate levels of toxins from refineries, trucking, train depots and the eighth largest landfill in the country. There are many other neighborhoods like the ones we serve, across Houston, Texas, and the United States. While communities which are structurally disadvantaged deserve special care during this crisis, programs that benefit all persons living in our society – including undocumented persons and refugees – are necessary to ensure the safety and dignity of all of us. To ensure this, West Street Recovery demands the following:
In relation to Medical Care:
- Central Location for information on COVID19
- Full transparency of testing availability and results
- COVID19 testing free of cost, available to all and mandatory and readily available to those working in close proximity to others
- Free treatment of all patients
- Free refills of prescribed preventative medicines
- Universal healthcare for all persons regardless of national origin
In relation to Housing:
- The immediate end to evictions, and the suspension of rent until governments provide rental assistance.
- Immediate provision of housing to all unhoused persons
- The immediate end of foreclosures due to taxes or mortgages
- The elimination of mortgage interest and any late fees accrued during the crises
- Property tax reduction commensurate with the length of the emergency and an individual’s ability to pay.
- The immediate halt to utility, telephone and internet disconnections, and the free and guaranteed provision of power, water, heat, and internet until the disaster is over
In relation to Earnings, Employment, Basic needs and Care
- Provision of Financial support for those worried about contracting the virus at work
- Basic income guarantee to all persons, and not scaled to previous earnings
- Immediate implementation of Disaster SNAP
- Immediate Implementation Of Disaster Unemployment that covers workers whose hours have been pushed to zero, but who are still technically employed
- Safe Food Delivery for vulnerable populations
- Mandatory sick leave for all workers
- Free provision of sanitation and safety supplies for all.
- Provision of free safe and sanitary child and elder care for all who have to work
For those who are detained unjustly at our border, or the huge number of people incarcerated, past abuse and neglect leave much reason to worry. Across the years, serious outbreaks of infectious diseases such as mumps and varicella have occurred in detention centers across the country. In relation to prisoners and detained persons we demand:
- The immediate release of all held in detention at the border
- The transfer of elderly prisoners and those with preexisting conditions to special facilities
- The immediate and permanent cessation of all immigration raids, and suspension of putting anyone else in detention centers
- All those being released have safe temporary housing
Community fabric, home repair and spreading the word (March 2020 Newsletter)
As March begins it’s hard to believe we’re only two months and a week into 2020. At our last staff meeting in February, our ice breaker was, “How have you celebrated Black History Month?” Some members did so in amazing ways. Alycia organized an entire BHM curriculum at her daughter’s school and Jade and Ben visited the MLK Jr. birth place and memorial in Atlanta, GA. Our work is rooted in anti racism, and celebrating blackness is a huge part of that. We are constantly pushing ourselves, each other, and everyone we interact with to better understand racism, black resilience, and how to build a world grounded in reparations. Our icebreaker was a great reminder that Black history is intentionally hidden from us. We are motivated to take time to visit museums, read books, watch movies, and intentionally create time and space learn about the influence of black people on our world. We encourage you to do the same.
In this update, we want to highlight two ongoing projects that epitomize our strategy of connecting neighbors to each other in a way that catalyzes recovery and improves resilience. WSR started rebuilding Connie’s home in January. Connie is a resident leader of the Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus (HFSC) and other caucus members have been key volunteers and laborers at the site. For example, Mark Anthony who is a long time organizer and construction worker led mucking and hanging drywall, and he recruited other flood survivors to assist him. Julia, an HFSC facilitator who works for Texas Housers, has volunteered at the site on several occasions. NAC members, Quentin and Margarita (who have already done work on 9 WSR job sites) have mucked and hung drywall, and now have the experience and confidence to make decisions about how to best manage repair projects. Having members of both groups onsite tearing down Connie’s living room while discussing the HSFC’s next action speaks to the community fabric that is being strengthened through our recovery work.
This community led effort at Connie’s is complemented by the support of larger institutions that we are partnering with on the project like ICNA relief, who has a case manager dedicated to her case. Jerome has shared Connie’s story with local media outlets and has been an advocate for not just Connie, but for all other members for the HFSC as well. Similarly, the Episcopal Archdiocese has already had two major repair days at the house. Building these relationships is part of our overall goal, to reduce the distance and build bonds between organizations with the resources to create a just recovery, and the flood survivors who should determine what that recovery looks like.
We know that building connections among a small group though is not enough to win a just recovery for all Houstonians, never mind survivors of inevitable future disasters across the country. To do that we need to change the conversation about housing and disaster recovery. You may remember that on January 16th, we held a home tour of his residence that garnered a lot of positive media and political attention. Multiple interviews by National Public Radio (NPR) and the Associated Press (AP) have brought to light the struggle of depending on the City of Houston for any significant relief. The house is coming together quickly. The new plumbing lines have been placed, a new roof was installed, and sheetrock is already being hung in the house. With all the stress that comes with rebuilding a home, the HFSC has been an enormous emotional support and avenue for advocacy for the Hester family. This is a living example of a core belief of West Street Recovery: that we must simultaneously fight systematic injustice and take care of each other. And we are really excited that we have been bringing that message across the country.
In mid February WSR members Ben and Jade, NAC and Caucus member Barbara Herndon, and NAC member Myrtala Tristan traveled to Atlanta for the Partnership for Resilient Communities Conference. Click here to read Barbara’s report back on lessons learned.
NAC member Doris Brown traveled to Washington DC with the National Wildlife Fund. She met with a contingent of congress members to advocate for green infrastructure, adequate flood mitigation and equitable investment to prevent damage from future storms. Both of these trips are part of our effort to change who gets listened to as critical decisions about our communities are made. But we acknowledge that we as organizers and residents don’t always have the skills or capacity to be as effective in those moments as we would like, which is why last week we hosted a training on Popular Education led by one of our mentors, Pancho Arguelles of Living Hope Wheelchair association.
The training had a great group of attendees made up of WSR staff and volunteers, NAC and Caucus members, Texas Housers staff, LaUnidad members, and other friends and supporters. WSR’s work is heavily influenced by Popular Education which is a method of both teaching and organizing based on understanding of class, privilege, political struggle and social transformation. It’s rooted in the idea that everyone has expertise that comes from their life experience, and that all people have dignity. (To learn more about PopEd check out this resource: https://www.afsc.org/resource/popular-education) This kind of training is important because it helps residents build the skills to advocate from themselves, and deepens all of our understanding of how we can fight for changes that accurately represent the desires of the community.
Finally, save the date of April 11th. We are hosting a tour of several worksites where you can see our flood resilient design in houses we have worked on, and meet some of the incredible residents we work with. More information will be available soon!
2020, MLK Day, and the Harvey Forgotten Survivors Recovery Caucus (January 2020 Newsletter)
|Happy New Year, and Martin Luther King Jr day from all of us at West Street Recovery. It is incredible to say that WSR has existed in four calendar years, and although we say it often it’s still true: we couldn’t have done it without you. |
|MLK day is an important day of reflection for many organizers and activists. We hope that we are building a tiny piece of the beloved community that King fought for. And in we hope that we, through our material work and power building are helping to fight against what the King Center calls “The Triple Evils of POVERTY, RACISM and MILITARISM” which “are forms of violence that exist in a vicious cycle. They are interrelated, all-inclusive, and stand as barriers to our living in the Beloved Community.”|
As always we are hard at work. WSR concluded our construction work at Doris’ home in late December, and continues to work on Sandra’s, where we are excited to build a house an old fashion technology, shiplap, that is mold resistant and preserves the cultural heritage that is embodied in the architecture of generational homes (Raul and Felix installing the wood walls is pictured above). In addition, we are opening our final two projects funded by the Rebuild Texas Fund within the next few weeks at the homes of Connie, and Lawrence (Who is pictured with his partner Jackie, Daughter and Grandson below).
Both homes are in Kashmere Gardens and both residents are members of our new organizing group the Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus. The Caucus is made up of 25 residents who have applied for the city’s home repair program funded by HUD. Not only have none of them received help, most of them cannot even learn what the status of their application is. If this is true for a group of engaged, informed applicants committed to understanding the process, it makes us fear for those who are less tuned in, or receiving less help. On Thursday January 16, The Caucus held an action, a home tour at Lawrence’s that drew the attention of national and local media, and won them an audience with City and county officials, as well as staff from State and national representatives offices’.
The action called attention to the fact that applicants, including Lawrence, his partner Jackie, their daughter (10 y/o) and grandson (8 y/o) are still living in dangerous conditions including mold, lack of power, and with inadequate plumbing. What is most exciting to us is that the caucus and action have been directed by residents with our support, but have grown and evolved in ways we didn’t expect and probably wouldn’t have suggested. (Pictures of planning meetings are below) The attention the action garnered is proof that our strategy of using home repairs to build community power works.
We are going to continue our efforts as long as we can, but it is important to say that the largest foundations have decided that that the Harvey Recovery is no longer a priority. That makes your continued support as funders, volunteers, and supporters more critical than any time since our inception. We can’t wait to see what 2020 brings. Please know we always welcome your input. Hope to see you soon!
WSR and Northeast Action Collective Testify to County Court (November 2019 Newsletter)
Over the last year WSR has worked with an amazing group of residents, who are friends, workers and clients for/of WSR and have pushed for investment from the city and county to improve drainage and flood resilience. This group is called the Northeast Action Collective (NAC). In May we hosted a Drainage Action Day, but the NAC knows that the improvements they need can not be won via self help efforts alone. After months of learning about how drainage is managed, governed and invested in we went to speak to the county commissioners court to let the NAC’s perspective, that promises are not enough, be heard by those with the power to make flood mitigation equity a reality.
We wanted to share the press report we are sending out today with all of you, it is copied below. As always we need your support as volunteers, donors, and advisors, but also as friends, family and co-travelers in the journey for a better and more just world.
On Tuesday November 12, the Northeast Action Collective went to Harris County commissioners court to demand drainage justice and flood control equity that protects their homes and neighborhoods in Northeast Houston. We presented four demands summarized below:
1) Address flooding off of Halls and Greens Bayou;
2) Communicate to residents of NE Houston what projects are planned, their status and timelines and how they can impact the process
3) Cooperate with the city to address street level drainage that floods into HCFCD infrastructure
4) Enforce existing land use laws to prohibit development that worsens flooding further in Northeast Houston. These demands reflect the needs and concerns of residents compiled by the Northeast Action Collective over the past year, as the NAC worked together to improve northeast Houston and recover from Harvey, Imelda, and other environmental and economic threats to their neighborhoods.
The NAC came to the court in person today because despite a year of learning and speaking together, and lots of commitments to equity from the County court, we have seen very little in terms of community engagement that successfully included us as experts on our own neighborhoods and even less in terms of construction that will prevent flooding. Four NAC members, Doris Brown, Myrtala Tristan, Veronica Medina and Juan Sorto, told the stories of how flooding has impacted their lives and neighborhoods and also presented the four demands (listed above) that if the county accepts will greatly improve resilience and reduce risk.
We are excited that by coming to court in person and making our presence known we gained an audience with staff members from Judge Lina Hidalgo’s office, the flood control district and from other commissioners. We will continue to pressure these offices to deliver the goals of equity and resilience in the face of flooding that we know some members of the court share, but that have not been achieved in the past and are not guaranteed in the future without community pressure and support.
2nd Annual Fundraiser & Dinner (October 2019)
Thank you to everyone who joined us at our 2nd Annual Dinner & Fundraiser! Celebrating our two year anniversary with our community, volunteers, and families we work with was an exciting occasion for West Street. We are honored so many people took the time to join us, and are immeasurably grateful for everyone’s support.
Tropical Storm Imelda Update (Sept 2019)
Just two years after Harvey, Northeast Houston suffered another flood from Tropical Storm Imelda, and the Bayou city saw its fifth 500 year rain event in six years. While Galveston and Beaumont flooded terribly, the impact on Houston was not nearly that of Harvey. Despite this comparison, the damage to several parts of Northeast Houston would have been unthinkable to most who hadn’t just experienced worse. On some blocks, like Teesdale street in the 77028 zip code, every home was inundated. Families who only just got back home had to start the cycle of mucking and gutting, applying for aid or filing insurance claims, and rebuilding yet again. It is a grim reality that we will surely see flooding of this magnitude again soon, and while the events of the past weeks have been deeply sobering, the response of the greater West Street Recovery community has been a cause for hope. (One of our amazing mucking crews pictured below)
On the day of flooding, Thursday WSR’s phone lines and WhatsAp group chat lit up with messages from residents we work with: “ It’s safe here … can someone check the flood mitigation website … there is water coming in … you’re welcomed to come to my house, we are going to be safe here … take care … be safe … I love you friends.” While we nervously read Space City weather (the best Houston weather site if you ever need one), our clients who have met each other over the last two year extended support to each other, provided comfort and showed each other that they were not alone. On Friday WSR did what we do. We put feet to pavement and looked at looked at damage with our own eyes, and we reached out to residents we knew who referred us to friends and loved ones who needed help. We sat in flooded living rooms and talked through the mucking process slowly and with care to families who were staring at the reality of what was to come. By Saturday volunteers had mobilized and we mucked out a clients house with a level of skill and precision that shows the amount we have learned since Harvey.
The next five days were a blur of walking slowly with clients, conference calls with advocates and churches who wanted to know where the damage was , volunteer coordination, and mucking out with families. On Wednesday, six days after flooding WSR held its regularly scheduled Northeast Action Collective meeting where clients shared their experiences and revealed fear and frustration, but also the comfort that they had provided to each other and their deepened motivation to make the city and county improve drainage systems. Unlike during Harvey, where even the best infrastructure would have struggled to deal with the deluge, Imelda was a smaller storm system and with real and equitable investment the drainage system could have moved water away from homes and prevented the damage that Houstonians are now working to repair. Maybe, after this flooding the city and county will be wise enough to listen to those who have been most impacted.
In sum, the experience during Imelda and afterward showed the importance of our work, and why the community first approach is necessary to build the resilient city that we know we need if we acknowledge the increased risks caused by climate change and unregulated development. The smaller flooding shows how helpful the flood resilient designs our rebuild team have been implementing could really be in future events. And the collective response showed what an incredible community we are lucky to be part of. Former clients showed up to help each other, and lend each other their physical skills and emotional support, our volunteer network cancelled plans and went to help people they had never met and whose lives have been far from theirs, and donors sent countless small donations that made a rapid response feasible. We are proud to have helped foster this network, but none of it would have been possible without all of you.
Summer Update: Employing Hurricane Survivors to Rebuild Homes and Strengthen Bonds
We hope you are savoring the last bits of summer and, if you are here in Houston that you survived the heat. As always WSR has been hard at work rebuilding homes, helping families navigate the recovery process and advocating for, and organizing towards, a more just Houston and world. We are currently planning our second anniversary celebration October 12, at Finca Tres Robles Farm in Houston. You can buy tickets here. The event is an important way for us to foster community and raise funds for the work that is still so badly needed in Northeast Houston.
In the early part of the summer we were lucky enough to gain access to pallets of free 25 year shingles through Bayou City Fellowship and were able to replace the roofs of more than a dozen homes that leaked badly during Harvey. Because Harvey was considered a “flooding event” and not a “wind event,” many repair organizations do not repair roofs, even though a leaking roof means any other repairs that are completed are at risk. These roof repairs and using free materials are a great example of how we continue to use creative strategies to help families get past roadblocks to a full recovery.
In addition we have now completely restored six homes. Deloris, a long time resident whose home we are restoring expressed the feeling of having us work on her home by saying, “I am glad for the renovations. They are a big help. I was really concerned. I didn’t know if I was going to have to leave permanently. But now it looks like I will get back in my home. I am pleased. I enjoyed the workers they were very nice and very good.” The continued use of community members as paid workers in their own neighborhoods has been critical to this success.
In addition to our reconstruction, work we have continued to organize through the Northeast Action Committee. In early August, for the first time, residents co facilitated the meeting, which was a huge accomplishment. Leading a meeting can be awkward, terrifying or confusing, but NAC members excelled. This is a critical step because while we love the meetings, we understand that to be truly autonomous – and therefor fully empowered – the NAC needs to be member led.
Thanks so much for the continued support, and please consider buying a ticket to attend our fundraiser October 12th. If you cannot attend but would like to buy a ticket for a resident in your honer, or are having some other logistical issue please email us to let us know!
West Street Recovery
Spring Update: Rebuilding Homes & Community Organizing
The spring has been an incredibly productive and busy time for West Street Recovery. In April, we finished two full home repair projects funded by SBP and by the end of May we will have completed one more home and broken ground on three others funded by the Rebuild Texas Fund. This increased scale and pace of work has been made possible by the new and exciting rebuilding partnerships we have developed with Chapelwood fellowship and the Houston Galveston Episcopal Archdiocese, who have partnered with us on one job site each, and who we hope to keep working with throughout the summer. (Pictured Below: Volunteers from Boston, coordinated by Chapelwood, Andrew Cobb and Waylon)
At the first RTF home we tried out a “muck ready” construction technique on the walls (see below). These walls have a seperation between the two sheets of dry wall and segments the insulation into two halves so that half of the materials can be protected in the case of a flood under 4 feet. It is disheartening to have to consider this kind of strategy, but until buyouts are a real possibility or flood mitigation money is spent in low income areas it is a necessity.
In addition to our construction efforts, we have continued meeting with residents we have helped through case management and home repair to organize ways to improve quality of life in their neighborhood. This amazing group (pictured below) have chosen the name Northeast Action Collective and hosted their first ever event, A Drainage Action Day, May 18. To get to this point, the residents have built skills and relationships, visited each others homes, cooked each other dinner and entertained each other, by teasing WSR staff members in Spanglish. The event was a huge success, with over 50 attendees cleaning out drains over two dozen blocks. While we are proud of our work, we hope that the city will take notice and spend the time and money that can reduce flooding risk in the future. (Pictures of the event are below)
Both strains of our work, community organizing, and rebuilding homes are made possible by our deep relationships with northeast Houston residents. We are proud to have hired 11 residents to work on our job sites in April and May alone because we believe that it keeps money in the communities that were most impacted by the Hurricane and build community resilience. We are also relieved to be rebuilding the homes of the Doucett and Moses Families, both of whom we have known since the storm. In both cases, our creative and persistent approach has proven successful at overcoming the many obstacles the families faced to accessing help through major agencies and governments. These families had to have deeds cleared, had unpaid taxes, homes with damage that predated Harvey and health and transportation issues that made the process strenuous. However, as we forged tighter bonds with each household it became increasingly clear that they needed and deserved safe, sanitary and secure housing, and that West Street was the most likely avenue for them to receive help.
We are so grateful for the support that has made our work possible, and we would like to remind you that we are still receiving a match for every dollar we raise through the generosity of the Rebuild Texas Fund. In addition, if you are a lawyer, or have a friend that is, and would be willing to help some families clear deeds so that they can be eligible for assistance through HUD please contact us.
Thanks for everything and keep in touch.
All of us at West Street Recovery