West Street Recovery

January 28, 2021

“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.

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 connect@weststreetrecovery.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.