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.
Welcome to Hurricane Season (June 2021)
Dear West Street Recovery supporters friends and family,
Happy Juneteenth! We hope that you are happy and healthy, that you are getting vaccinated and spending some time in close proximity (Yes, like actually physically in the same room) with those who you love and care for.
The first half of the year has been a period of huge growth WSR. In response to the #TexasDeepFreeze in February we reconnected over 100 families (and counting) to their water supply, and our community organizing efforts have grown leaps and bounds. As hurricane season gets underway, we know the rapid response will likely be needed again soon. And with utter sincerity, we couldn’t do it without your continued emotional, fiscal, technical and labor support.
Before June even began, storms from tropical depressions drenched Houston. The 2021 Hurricane season is predicted to be “more active than the historical average” but the late May storms (pictured above) that saturated the soil, and sent water flowing across streets weren’t hurricanes; they weren’t tropical storms; but they were bad. Two WSR clients had ceilings collapse and another had several inches of flood water. Luckily members of the Northeast Action Collective and the Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus sprang into action to patch the ceilings, and resilient design interventions at the flooded home protected the family from any serious impacts. While we are proud of the social infrastructure, collective care and skills we deploy with increasing frequency, we are tired of being “resilient” and we know the incredible NAC and Caucus members and their neighborhoods in NE Houston are too.
Instead of relying on the ability of residents and community groups to withstand and recover from repeated shocks, Houston needs a better disaster preparedness system. To make that possible we need to acknowledge that major storms are no longer rare events. The probabilities conveyed by the phrase “500 year flood plain” standard are outdated to the point of bordering on misinformation. Considering the current mood of relentless self congratulation and tireless climate inaction from our political and economic leaders we must prepare for the worst as autonomous organizations while simultaneously advocating for a much more fundamental shift in the way we consume energy and live our lives.
WSR has been trying to enact preparedness with our small community to both protect each other and model what real preparedness would look like. We are doing door knocking to create phone trees and spread information about how to respond during storms; installing generators for people with extreme health vulnerabilities. We have also created “Go-Bags” that will help families evacuate or shelter in place safely. (pictured below: Margarita, Doris and the rest of the disaster prep team assemble and show off the bags)
WSR has been trying to enact preparedness with our small community to both protect each other and model what real preparedness would look like. We are doing door knocking to create phone trees and spread information about how to respond during storms; installing generators for people with extreme health vulnerabilities. We have also created “Go-Bags” that will help families evacuate or shelter in place safely.
Our disaster preparedness efforts have been demanded by our community, and have been noticed. We have been asked by both county commissioner staff and city counselors if we could get bags to more community members. It’s both flattering and deeply depressing. WSR should not be on the cutting edge of preparedness. We need to be realistic about more formal efforts. In a recent meeting Houston office of Emergency Management met with NAC members and suggested that disabled people’s best bet for getting help was to sign up for a program called SEAR. Ben Broadway, NAC member, blind person and blindness advocate, was blunt, he has been signed up with SEAR for ten years and never received any help whatsoever. During the winter storm Houston had 800 beds with appropriate precautions ready in case of an emergency. Over two million Houstonians lost power. The utter lack of readiness is even more frustrating when you learn that according to FEMA, every dollar of Disaster Prep and natural hazard mitigation spending saves seven dollars of recovery funds. But this is not about dollars, it’s about lives.
Ultimately, even if it was heavily invested in, preparedness at the household level can only go so far. We need big infrastructure projects, both grey and green, to more effectively move water away from homes, to make sure electrical supply is safe, to make sure that people have places to shelter during storms. Sadly no level of government is delivering the needed protections. This month, from the State of Texas General Land Office ruled that it would send zero dollars, ($0.00!) of the $1.1 billion of flood mitigation money requested. These funds are key to addressing a $1.4 billion gap that has been left to complete projects from the 2018 flood bond. The GLO decision is blatantly racist and an act of procedural violence that cannot go unchecked. We are glad a fair housing complaint to HUD about the GLO is in the works; we will support it however we can. At the same time we believe that the county has also violated their own bond regulations around equity. While there is a total funding shortfall of 27%, Halls and Greens Bayou, where our clients live, and which had the most units of housing flooded during Harvey has a shortfall of 74.4%. This is not equity and the county knows it. Maybe that is why (and the NAC pressure certainly was a part of this) Harris County Flood Control director Russ Poppe resigned this past weekend. They are releasing a new plan on June 29, and we have testified every single court meeting since March hoping to push for the best possible protection for NE Houston.
We are proud of our efforts this year, and we are excited to keep building the disaster justice ecosystem in Houston and beyond. But we cannot do it alone and we need our political and cultural leadership to show much more urgency. We hope you are inspired to be part of the movement that makes that urgency happen. The time for small steps has sadly gone. The moment requires bravery, discomfort and growth. We will be there. We hope you join us.
West Street Recovery
Disaster Response from the Winter Storm to Hurricane Season (April 2021)
With this most recent Earth Day we were reinvigorated and reinspired by the deep and expansive roots of West Street’s struggle for water, for housing, and for community. Mni Wiconi, water is life – the cry for justice of indigenous water protectors at Standing Rock – reminds us that we are inseparable from our ecology. So too ecology is inseparable from human systems of oppression, racism and colonization. As WSR works to make sure people have the food, water, and housing they need to survive perpetual and repeated disasters, we are always also working towards community power-building needed for large-scale shifts towards justice.
Doris Brown, WSR staffer and NAC organizer, puts it well: “We’re living in disaster all the time. We have learned how to exist in disaster. We never really recover. It’s gonna take a lot for us to ever “recover,” to have a more equitable community. We need to solve those underlying problems.”
Read our full blog post here. We talk about what a just recovery means, and how we can push for a world in which it is possible. The article is part of a much longer report evaluating the response to Hurricane Harvey, to be released later this year.
Since the winter storm WSR has re-established full water access to 59 homes, fully repiped 24 homes, and replaced sewer systems on 5 homes. Though there is great need across Houston, we have only been doing repairs for homes in the Northeast. We have been collaborating with Greater Houston Community Fund for funding and case referrals, as well as pushing them for more accessible eligibility requirements for the cases they accept.
As our response to the deep freeze continues, this year’s hurricane season is approaching fast. With the unfortunate expectation of more storms to come, our disaster prep team is ramping up several initiatives:
- “Go” bags with life-saving supplies for the first 24-48 hours post disaster
- A community roster for check-ins during and immediately after a disaster
- Community emergency response team trainings to train residents to help each other
Fundamentally disaster prep is about building resilience and investing ahead of time for the next disaster. To get our “go bags” off the ground, we’re asking for donations – $80 will fund a prep bag for a family of four. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation, and put “disaster bags” in the description.
To hear more about our recent work, please join our All-Hands Meeting this Sunday May 2, from 4-6 pm. We will give in depth report-backs on Deep Freeze response, disaster prep, organizing with NAC and Caucus, and community research. We will also have a collective conversation about our plans to purchase a property in the coming year, to serve as a community space for residents and our broader community.
Our All-Hands meetings are spaces where all of West Street’s community comes together, from past staff to residents to family and allies. We hope to get input and learn from you all to shape our future together. Register here.
West Street Recovery
Texas Water Crises: An Update (March 2021)
A month ago Texas temperatures started their long slide towards historic lows. The isolated and deregulated power grid and fossil fuel based energy production strategy that Texans rely on failed. Water were stressed by breaks in municipal lines, treatment facilities which lost power and increased demand from dripping faucets and broken household plumbing. The water stopped flowing. As we approach mid March, and trudge into year two of COVID precautions, thousands of residents in Houston haven’t seen their water come back. Every known strain of COVID-19 is present in Houston and thousands of households in the most vulnerable communities cannot wash their hands, bathe their children or clean their dishes. Indigenous communities remind us that “Water is Life” and piped water into our homes is an emblem of inclusion in our society. The failure to maintain water service and the lackluster effort to fix the pipes speaks volumes. Remember: this was all preventable.
As we have after Harvey, the ITC chemical fire,Tropical storm Imelda, the COVID 19 pandemic and Houston Police Departments mass arrests and obfuscation last June, WSR sprang into action. We distributed thousands of gallons of water, facilitated the delivery of hundreds of hot meals and have restored water access to 40 families (and counting) by carrying out rapid plumbing repairs. This response was not carried out by WSR as an independent free floating entity. It was informed by bilingual WhatsApp chats, staffed through Instagram outrage and executed through a network of community leaders, inspiring volunteers, skilled contractors, and clever google sheet technicians.
The preparations we made and the tactics we used to ramp up repair programs at a speed not matched by our governments or larger NGOs are made possible by the deep relationships and dense networks of collective care that we have woven since Harvey. This month is ample evidence that communities with strong social bonds and mutual affection are best positioned to prepare for and respond to disasters. But relationships need to be complemented by specialized knowledge about both vulnerabilities or risks and solutions — think both understanding the location of toxic facilities and the addresses of neighbors with COPD and how to properly apply CPVC glue or appeal a FEMA denial. The specialized work now occurring requires expensive supplies, ,a just recovery and demands fairly paid workers. But there is no shortage of money. Remember: a single F-35 fighter Jet costs $110 million dollars; fully replacing a plumbing system with freeze resistant PEX piping costs $5,000.
We owe you all a tremendous thank you for the years of support which sustained our organizing and home repair efforts, nurtured our growth as rapid responders and pushed us to grow as thinkers. And not just the years, but the last few weeks too. Thank you for the incredible stream of donations that gave us confidence to just do the work, the amplification of our efforts via social media and the sweet emails and phone calls lifting us up.
We will need your continued help as the “long recovery” unfolds. Community leaders have taught us that the idea of recovery is a misrepresentation that positions disasters as ruptures when in reality they are inflections in long histories of racism, environmental crimes, government neglect, corporate disinvestment and communities doing their best to get by. Many families whose pipes burst are still living in damage caused by Harvey. Instead of treating each storm as a discrete event with a finite recovery we need to adopt a strategy that rests on improving housing, reducing risk and building democratic power until all in our city and society can thrive all of time.
It’s been a hard month in Texas, but we have each other and much to be proud of. Stay in touch and take care of yourself. Another world is possible. Water is Life.
West Street Recovery
Response to Deep Freeze (Updated 2-19-2021)
We hope you are healthy and safe during this terrible weather and disaster of capitalism, ecology and governance. We promise a better thought out update, with pictures and everything, will be posted soon. For now:
WSR is currently responding to the deep freeze, and electricity and water stoppages. We are coordinating our response and already have volunteers and staff out working seeing the damage, trying to prevent it from getting worse, distributing food and water, and shutting off water mains so surges don’t flood peoples homes. We cannot emphasize enough that both the disaster and the recovery is a long term process. The damage from each disaster accumulates, and it’s always the same communities that are hit the worst, again and again. We believe the best way forward is ground-up, community led organizing to build community power and resilience.
Thank you from WSR and our NE Houston community for the gracious support from around the country. The situation here is urgent and every single dollar will be spent making sure needs are met and helping our neighborhoods recover long term. The recovery from this is going to be long and hard. If you are out of state, or home dry and without broken pipes please consider sending support. We will publish full deep freeze accounting on a regular basis (see our Instagram page for recent update). Click here to donate.
Thank you to those who have reached out looking to volunteer! Our list of homes needing repair to pipes and water damage remediation continues to grow and we’ll be coordinating several volunteer days in the weeks to come. To connect with us to volunteer, please fill out our volunteer form here.
Response to Deep Freeze (2-17-2021)
West Street Recovery has been keeping in touch with resident groups, Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus and Northeast Action Collective to spread information about cold and carbon monoxide safety, and to monitor the ongoing power outage and water shut off situation and the impact it is having on families already hit by Harvey and COVID-19.
We’re paying special attention to those with medical vulnerabilities who rely on power to breath or sleep; most of these members are doing ok at this time.
We are furious that once again, poor BIPOC people are living through the consequences of climate chaos, privatization, deregulation and white supremacy. We will continue to fight those ills but for now, we are trying to keep people safe and minimize damage as best we can. This recovery will be a long one and we all will need to work tirelessly if we want it to be rooted in justice and equity.
Throwback to WSR’s Early Days (January 2021)
It’s the start of our fifth (holy smokes!) calendar year in existence. WSR formed while the traumas of Harvey were still unfolding; as we witnessed government abandonment we began to imagine building a response that did not replicate the conditions that left people so vulnerable in the first place. At the end of that first whirlwind month, WSR co-founder Leah helped document our experiences in our zine:
“In crisis, a window of opportunity is thrown open. Despite everything else going wrong, despite grief and loss (…) we happen upon a chance to prove to ourselves and each other that we’re human. In disaster, we catch glimpses of new ways of relating to each other and ourselves. Harvey’s water receded and we found it had washed the gloss of familiarity away; something new is waiting to be defined.”
As we fight through the grief brought by this most recent and most deadly wave of COVID-19, it can be hard to imagine the possibility of “something new”, something better. The virus, like Harvey, is amplifying and unveiling previous injustice and exposing the weaknesses of our political economy and culture. The losses inflicted by this latest disaster will stretch from months into years. We’re in it for the long haul, which makes it all the more important for us to engage in sustainable work ethics: long-term power building and practices of care that reflect the world we are fighting for.
Our Growing Family
We are proud to maintain continuity of operations throughout the year despite three co-founders transitioning away from daily work, having to move to virtual work, and shifting focus from one disaster to another. But by the end of 2020 we realized we needed a bigger team if we wanted to carry out all the home repair, organizing, and research work we dream of doing. In an effort to keep our work sustainable for years to come, we have expanded our staff so we can take better care of ourselves and each other amidst growing workloads.
Our incredible new intern Vatsala Mundra is helping us with several community research projects. Alice Liu, who interned with us last summer, is returning to support our communications, fundraising and organizing. We’re also thrilled to work with long time volunteers Ana Barrios and Tracy Hamblin. Ana is executing a series of focus groups for the National Academy of Sciences and facilitating increased participation from monolingual Spanish speakers in our organizing work. Tracy is directing our first full home repair of the year for a family who was ineligible for both FEMA and CDBG-DR assistance.
Please power our work by joining our ever-growing WSR work family! We always need more help with rebuilds, research, and getting the word out – email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to volunteer.
What We Did Last Year
This year most of our goals will be won in collaboration with the Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus and the Northeast Action Collective. WSR and these two groups are off to a powerful start, building on an incredible set of accomplishments in 2020.
Besides WSR’s core rebuild and organizing work, we did our best to use the lessons and relationships we have built since Harvey to help our communities respond to the triple crises of racial reckoning, pandemic, and economic freefall. We coordinated jail support during Black liberation protests, distributed COVID relief, phone banked for the election, and connected with a new array of radical, imaginative and people-powered organizations in Houston.
In 2020 West Street Recovery:
- Fully repaired five homes damaged in Harvey to be safe, sanitary, and secure
- Completed small repairs on 25 homes
- Completed our first research report, a Community Evaluation of Disaster Recovery (publication forthcoming)
- Hired a community member as a full time staffer
- Implemented simultaneous interpretation and language justice in meetings
- Hired dozens of survivors to repair homes and provided onsite trainings
- Distributed $240,000 of COVID relief
- Distributed PPE to over 200 families
- Called over 13,000 homes for voter mobilization
- Facilitated NAC and Caucus
In 2020 the Northeast Action Collective:
- Hosted our second annual Drainage Clean-up Day
- Successfully applied for funding from two grants
- Presented to the Natural Hazards Center national conference
- Prepared for Hurricane Laura
- Began a Disaster Prep program
- Responded to COVID:
- Transitioned to virtual meetings, learned to use zoom and zoom simultaneous interpretation and met 2 times every month!
- Distributed PPE to all members and family members in need
- Helped identify people in need of COVID cash assistance
- Advocated through local government to demand drainage action:
- Got three members onto the Harris County Flood Control Task Force
- Spoke at City Council
- Held actions at City Hall and Public Works
- Met with City Council District B candidates and strengthened our relationship with Council Member Plummer
In 2020 The Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus chose our name and:
- Organized our Home Tour Action to show the current conditions of many homes still waiting to recover from Harvey
- Wrote and distributed lists of Just Disaster Recovery Demands
- Filmed and edited a video calling to defund police and invest in communities
- Found members jobs as CEER Climate Ambassadors
- Pushed our just recovery demands with government agencies
- Met with City Officials, General Land Office, Senator Carol Alvarado, Congresswoman Lizzie Fletcher, Council Member Dr Plummer
- Provided Public Comment to City Council
- Sent Harvey Anniversary cards to local, state, and federal officials
- Became a voice on disaster recovery in Houston and national media
We need as much support as we can get to reach our ambitious research, organizing, and rebuild goals for this year. If you can, consider clicking here to donate to our work towards a just recovery.
Closing off, this is a small reminder to remember your own power. At the beginning of every Caucus meeting, here’re some norms we state that help us.
1. Speak From the Soul- State the truth that moves us the most.
2. Eyes on the prize- stay focused on our goals.
3. Care for each other.
With love from us all at WSR.
Elections, Democracy, and 3rd Anniversary (November 2020)
This past week millions of people in America voted in an historic election that many of us are still trying to process and interpret. We already know a few things that bring hope. Black and Brown organizers and voters played a decisive role in determining the outcome. Kamala Harris will serve as the first ever woman, first South Asian and first Black vice president ever. More votes were cast in this election than in any election ever. And locally, Harris County smashed voter turnout records. (Excited about high rates of participation as you may be, we can not forget the number of people among us who cannot vote because of systematic and racist disenfranchisement.)
WSR was unexpectedly thrust into “Get Out the Vote” efforts 11 days before the election, when Houston in Action awarded us a grant to hire clients and members to call friends and relatives to encourage them to vote. In just over a week, our members called over 23,000 people in Houston, and earned a living wage doing it! Through the grant we were able to provide new Chromebooks to several members who have due to technical barriers struggled to participate in virtual organizing, our members built a new skill set and our community thrilled to play an important role in the election. (Also some lucky callers met Common, which was a trip!)
But democracy is not something that happens every other year during elections. At WSR we try to make all of our decisions and processes as democratic as possible. We aim to include every member and staff member as equal partners in shaping our organization’s future. In other words, we try our hardest to share power, and build power that is inherently democratic. For us, this means drawing more and more people into our work, learning from them and reshaping our organization and strategy based on the new ideas and energy that residents and volunteers bring. It also means orienting new participants into our norms and values so that we can build a sustainable model for just recovery together.
We are appalled that a vision of America that is rooted in exclusion and white supremacy could be so popular to win 70 million votes. But we are not confused as to why people in our political cultures feel powerless and want a champion. People feel powerless because democratic participation and sharing power is actually extremely rare! Even when we want to be inclusive and share power, it’s difficult to do so because we have so little practice.
During our third anniversary we shared many of the lessons we have learned about how to address inequality, organize our communities, build local knowledge, and build resilient homes. We were thrilled that so many of you joined us. Below are links to videos of the panel discussions to learn from our clients, volunteers and allies about how we can continue to make a society that is more just and inclusive. Click here for more details on these panels and our 3rd Anniversary Celebration.
Survivors as Experts: Research for a Just Recovery (Panel Video)
We are also excited to share an organizational profile that articulates our strategy for using home repair, community organizing and case management together to build a truly democratic institution that promotes justice. Please take these materials in. West Street has been a process of constant learning and struggle, but it also has been a dream. In the wake of this election that provided relief and assurance to so many of our friends we hope that you have more space to dream in the weeks to come. And we hope our work can catalyze your imagination and show that deep alternatives are more than possible.
West Street Recovery
WSR 3rd Anniversary Celebration – Oct 16 & 17
Please join us to celebrate WSR’s third birthday, with three exciting panels on Building Community power in the age of disaster. Although we cannot safely be together in person, coming together with our broader community remains crucial to sustaining the energy and enthusiasm that makes WSR such a wonderful organization to be part of.
During our discussions WSR staff, key collaborators from other organizations, and community members we organize with, we will explore discuss how our programming has increased the resilience of the communities we serve by strengthening social networks and creating new groups fighting for justice. Over the course of the weekend we discuss how and why governments at all levels need to change policy related to disaster recovery, and how direct services can be used to build political power. In addition we will discuss how being honest about the risks of climate change shapes our approach to home repair and advocacy.
We hope that these lessons can empower communities to prepare for and respond to disasters that are ever more frequent in a way that is equitable and just.
- Survivors as Experts: Research for a Just Recovery, Friday October 16, 6:00pm – 7:30pm
- Building Resilient Homes and Economic Empowerment, Saturday October 17, 1:00pm – 2:30 pm
- Community Organizing and Building Power, Saturday October 17, 5:00 – 6:30
We have set the goal of raising $10,000 this October so that we can continue our work. The image below shows that every dollar counts, and we are so grateful for your continued support. The event is pay what you can, but please consider making a donation when you register, or click here to donate.Register Here
We hope you are all Staying safe and healthy in this difficult year, and that you get your voter registration in on time. In Texas October 5th is the deadline!
With love from us all at WSR.
3 years since Harvey, Disaster Justice and Changes (Sept 2020)
Three years ago this week, a group of volunteers responding to Hurricane Harvey took a breath to think about who we were, what we had seen, and how we could articulate and enact a disaster response that was more equitable and just than the one we saw taking shape around us (an early WSR picture is below). Sitting on the floor and writing on sticky pads this group, which is now West Street Recovery, laid out the first draft of a mission, vision and common values that still guide our work. As we approach the third anniversary of our formal founding in mid October we are still trying to deliver and embody a just recovery process.
We know that this work is critical because, despite claims that disasters impact everyone, long term studies show that major weather events amplify wealth and health inequalities. For Houston residents, Harvey has been followed by tropical storm Imelda, the ITC chemical fire and COVID- 19. And as fires ravage the Western united states, Lake Charles remains without power after Hurricane Laura, named storms queue up in the Atlantic, and and children struggle to attend pandemic-induced online school, it is clear that making disaster recovery more equitable and just is an essential component of building a more equal, humane and loving society overall.
We believe that preparedness is critical to recovery, so as Laura approached we snapped into action. Teams of volunteers delivered ice to families who needed to keep insulin cold, and with the help of the Houston Tool bank we delivered generators to households that rely on electrical medical equipment for survival. On the Tuesday before the storm made landfall, (exactly three years after Harvey) the Northeast Action Collective and the Harvey Forgotten Survivors Caucus held a joint call (pictured above) to prepare. They brainstormed strategies for notifying the utility company about medical uses, ways to stay safe in extreme wind and volunteered to help board up each others windows. Seeing the people we have worked with sharing knowledge, resources and pitching in to help each other was incredible and the strength of the NAC and Caucus members was inspiring.
Another element to living with disaster is mitigating its impacts. Key to reducing the damage caused by flooding is making sure that water flows away from homes through drains. The NAC took some steps to make that happen on August 29, by holding their second annual Drainage Clean Up Day to demand #DrainageJustice (Pictures above and below). The event was a huge success; drains got cleaned, community members met each other, volunteers learned about the inadequacy of drainage in NE Houston and we caught the attention of city council member Dr Plummer who attended the event and has said she will follow up with a drainage maintenance and future investment report to the NAC. We know the neighborhood can play a part in keeping the drains clean, but there is little a resident can do if there are no drains in the first place!
|Lastly, but of huge importance, one of WSR’s co-founders Alycia Miles is leaving our day team after three years of visionary leadership and inspiring work. Here is a message that she wanted to share with all of you about her transition:|
My time at West Street has been filled with rewards, challenges and rewarding challenges. I am looking forward to continuing my work in south Houston with the breakfast program and computer donations to children throughout the Houston area that need to stay home for virtual learning. While this work will take me away from the daily tasks that make WSR run, I will continue to serve on the board and as an advisor when needed. As sad as changes can be, I’m confident WSR couldn’t have a more passionate group in leadership. And together with the community we serve, no better equipped set of humans could be found for the job. Power to the people!
Our third anniversary event is coming up, and in this strangest of years it will be held virtually. We hope you join us!
With love from all of us at West Street Recovery.
We wish you an amazing end of summer.
Earth Day, COVID 19, and Spring Updates
Before we share what’s going on at WSR we want to send you our best wishes. We hope you are in good physical and mental health, and are keeping your spirits up in this very difficult and uncertain time. Please take care of yourselves, wash your hands, get sleep and try to stay connected to those who matter most to you.
This week saw the 50th celebration of Earth Day, but the foundations of the changes we need to build a world where everyone on this planet can live meaningful lives in a healthy environment are much older. Our vision of a future that fulfill the goals of Earth Day must be informed by the lessons that come from over 500 years of resistance, led by communities of color, to colonialism, racism, patriarchy and the ravages of capitalism. WSR tries our best to incorporate these lessons into all of our work, from how we replace cabinets (built with reused materials pictured below), to how we make decisions as a staff. We invite you to join us in this difficult effort to make the environments we live in happier and healthier while prioritizing the perspectives of those who have both benefited least from and been harmed the most from the pollution and destruction that led to this moment of environmental crises.
Our society’s response to COVID 19 shows that we are entirely capable of the types of rapid transformations we will need to protect each other from climate change. Sadly though, the pandemic’s uneven impact also shows that the shortcomings of our response will mostly harm low income households and people of color. The pandemic has also highlighted the racial and economic health disparities resulting from decades of environmental injustice and dangerous working conditions. Just in the communities WSR works in there are heightened asthma and respiratory issues from truck traffic, landfill emissions, and chemical fumes — extremely high cancer rates from creosote exposure — and many residents have diabetes and heart issues from a lifetime of limited access to healthy food and stressful, dangerous working conditions.
WSR is at present doing our best to assist families that are most likely to be hurt by this virus. We are working with our partners at the Episcopal Archdiocese, Texas Housers, LaUnidad11, National Low Income Housing Coalition, the HOME and CEER Coalitions, along with so many others, to deliver critical sanitation supplies, PPE, and financial support to those who are ineligible for state assistance or cannot afford or access cleaning supplies (delivered with special social distancing precautions and from local suppliers, pictured above) and those who are required to keep working despite the health risks.
This work has been complemented by a growing digital organizing effort that shows the adaptability and strength of the community members we walk alongside. Since social distancing began, we have held community calls and zoom meetings (pictured below) twice a week where residents build technological literacy and skills while they continue campaigns demanding adequate drainage and flood control infrastructure and a city home repair program that delivers dignified and safe housing to Harvey survivors. Wednesday the NAC had our second meeting with the Harris county officials, this time with the Flood Control District to learn about mitigation efforts and demand equal protection and treatment. We had a great turnout and are building a relationship that we hope delivers real reductions in flood risk.
In addition to carrying out our focused campaigns we use these calls to check in on each other, share our fears and joys, identify needs in the community, and strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity that are the foundation of our effort to build community power.
We are thrilled to be doing this work in deep partnership with a community that faces disproportionate risk both from COVID 19 and climate change. And, we are honored to have received funds to pass on to our members so that they can cope with the economic impacts of sheltering in place. However we still need support to pay the staff who will administer these rapidly emerging programs. We know it is a very tight time for many of you and we appreciate anything you can share with us.
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