Even during the Texas winter storm blackout, CTI leaders swung into action to support low-income families cut off from access to heat, potable water and food. Not only did they deliver direct assistance from their own pantries (and eventually much more in collaboration with the County of Travis) they participated in a Texas IAF press conference calling for structural reforms to the statewide power grid. In Waco, CTI furthermore helped support a local congregation that opened their doors to vulnerable residents needing warmth.
Profiled in the stories below are people and communities Central Texas Interfaith introduced to reporters, including from the Washington Post.
[At Pecan Park Mobile Homes] on the eastern edge of Austin, Kamel is struggling to plan out the next few weeks for his family. Business had already been slow for his pressure-washing company because of the pandemic, but the freeze has now damaged the equipment.
“We are not able to use anything. So we have like a zero income for now,” said Kamel, who must pay rent by the first week of March to avoid $75 daily late fees. “I’m nervous. I’m sure we are not going to be able to pay on time.”
Days earlier, he nearly lost his three children to carbon monoxide poisoning after they used a charcoal stove to warm their mobile home. He said he felt like a prisoner listening to his children cry from the painful cold during their five days without power. Fear tore through Kamel and his wife after their son began vomiting and they rushed to the hospital.
The hardship reminded Kamel of his own childhood in Iraq, but he said he felt less prepared than his parents, who were accustomed to surviving. The 41-year-old has endured much in his life, but he did not expect this in Texas. The power and weather crises are over, but the consequences for his family will reverberate for weeks.
Kamel applied for individual assistance from FEMA after learning through his kids’ school about the help. Organizers from Central Texas Interfaith have also helped his family with immediate needs, such as food and water.
“We’ve been through similar tough times, but this time it’s different because we have kids,” Kamel said of himself and his wife. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen like next week or like 10 days from here or a month from here, you know?”
Texas Storm Left Death, Devastation in Vulnerable Communities, National Catholic Report - Earthbeat [pdf]
Help On Ice: St. Alban's Serves as Warming Center, Act Locally Waco
While we desperately need immediate relief, we must also seek long-term systemic change.
As faith leaders, we have a responsibility to cry out for the vulnerable and seek the common good, and this means the reform of a utility system that has served as a means for profit, putting profit before people.
Last week, The Network of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations with interfaith leaders from across the state held a press conference, urging the governor and legislature to take responsibility and put people before profits. It is time to direct recovery resources and restructure utility oversight to protect all, especially the poorer residents already on the edge because of the pandemic.
More than two years after Hurricane Harvey flooded St. Francis of Assisi parishioner Kathy Gabriel’s home, she finally celebrated the holidays this past November and December in her home that had to be demolished and rebuilt....Sherry Dunlap, [is] a fellow parishioner who took it upon her faith in action to help those families.
“Thanks to training through TMO (The Metropolitan Organization), I became the de facto Harvey Disaster Case Administrator for the church and our parishioners and others around the city,” Dunlap said.
Even St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church itself was inundated with water and the subsequent problems of mold and other issues that the Archdiocese helped to resolve.
TMO and Gulf Coast Leadership Council (GCLC) representative Gina Reynoso said the nonprofit organizations acted as a conduit to connect people in need after the hurricane with the multitude of agencies attempting to help.
With contribution from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, GCLC organized meetings with churches and their congregations impacted by the hurricane as being places of trust among the flurry of contractors and others trying to get a piece of the work. Reynoso said, “In the last two years, GCLC has held outreach sessions reaching more than 2,000 people....
[Photo Credit (left): James Ramos, Herald; (right): St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church]
A Renovated Home for the Holidays: St. Francis of Assisi Parishioners Mark Second Christmas Since Harvey, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
On October 6th, as thousands of Harvey survivors spent hours in line attempting to meet the deadline for emergency food aid, the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP), TMO leaders organized a press conference at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church to demand an extension of the deadline for families.
Said Fr. SimÃ³n Bautista, "For two days in a row got in line at 6 a.m. and by the time she was seen, around 7 p.m., she was told that her last name was not being seen that day. She returned at 3 a.m. to find that 10 to 15 individuals were already in line. These individuals and families have been waiting in the heat, missing work and some still haven't received the benefits."Read more
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Texas Senator Sylvia Garcia joined TMO in calling on landlords to extend a 30-day grace period and to refrain from charging renters' fees and penalties following the devastation left by Hurricane Harvey.
According to TMO, some landlords use computerized systems that automatically charge penalties for late payments regardless of Houston being in post-Harvey recovery. Rev. Ed Gomez of St. Paul's/San Pablo Episcopal Church shared stories of tenants who work in the service industry and, due to the storm, missed days of work and are now unable to pay their rent at this time. "People are not asking for a handout but a hand up as we get through this difficult time," he said.
Turner, Garcia and other TMO leaders were forceful in urging undocumented immigrants not to shy away from assistance for fear of being asked for papers. Said Mayor Turner, "We are not going to tolerate anybody in this city being victimized because they may be poor or because they may be undocumented or because they may not speak the language. We expect people to treat people right, with dignity and respect."
Turner Asks Houston Landlords to Grant One Month Grace Period to Renters, Houston Public Media (NPR)
Mayor Turner Names Former Shell CEO as Recovery Czar, Houston Press
When leaders knocked on renters' doors in flood ravaged apartments near their churches, they heard story after story about eviction threats from landlords. Struggling to find work, and struggling to get to work without their cars, many renters said they just needed three weeks to get on their feet. Together, they initiated meetings with landlords from ten apartment complexes to press for a grace period. Many landlords refused.Read more
Days before Congress adjourns for October recess, the word among lobbyists was that a proposal for flood recovery funding for Louisiana would not even get a vote for inclusion in the continuing resolution (short term budget).
Then, according to Together Baton Rouge, sister IAF organizations across the country began contacting their congressional representatives and senators urging them to support the funding package -- even across partisan lines. Together Baton Rouge posted a video that, in less than one day, was viewed 55,000 times as leaders quickly spread its message urging people to contact their congressional representatives. TBR additionally credits the Louisiana Governor and congressional delegation for "working tirelessly across party lines to make the case for flood recovery."
48 hours after the funding was declared dead on arrival, the Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell, threw his full support behind the funding and announced it would receive a vote.
At stake is tens of thousands of homes and potential foreclosures.
Great Flood of 2016 and What We Need to Rebuild, Together Baton Rouge
A 'crazy' idea from 70-year-old Betsy Smith amidst the lack of an automated federal response sparked the effort: "Rather than just donate money....donate $120 to pay an unemployed person $15 an hour for an 8-hour day's work helping with the cleanup effort."Read more
As soon as survivors of the Katrina catastrophe began arriving in the Houston Astrodome, and in the suburbs of Dallas and North Texas, leaders and organizers from The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) and Dallas Area Interfaith (DAI) began identifying potential leaders among the evacuees and teaching them to organize their colleagues in coordination with the local community. Survivors Groups involving thousands of families were organized by West and Southwest IAF affiliates throughout Texas and Louisiana, and successfully addressed issues ranging from restoration of cell phone service to extension of FEMA housing deadlines to absentee ballot GOTV work around the New Orleans elections the next spring.
"Mission Hasn't Ended for Katrina Survivor's Network," Dallas Morning News, 8/29/10
Group Moves Quickly to Reconnect, Organize Astrodome 'Residents', Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, 12/1/05
Even as Louisiana was still recovering from Katrina, Hurricanes Rita and Ike battered the Texas Gulf Coast, leading TMO to establish Gulf Coast Interfaith as an institution to tackle post-hurricane issues.
Not only did the effort result in the replacement of hundreds of roofs of the lowest-income families, leaders also ensured that recovery funds went to the counties that needed them the most -- thus increasing recovery funds for low-income and elderly families devastated by the storms.