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.
Our second year has been a thrilling time of growth for West Street Recovery. What began out as a few friends helping neighbors after Harvey has evolved into a team of community members working with residents of Northeast Houston to rebuild their lives and homes. In just two years we have created an efficient nonprofit organization providing case management to over 250 families, providing small build repairs, and more recently completing full home rebuilds for families that cannot qualify for other rebuilding programs. We are also excited to be engaged in a long term community organizing project in the 77078 area, and to have recently completed our first edition of our flood resilient home design.
WSR and Northeast Action Collective Testify to County Court (November 2019)
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