Sunday, September 11, 2005

Alternative Giving

On August 30, 2005 evacuees from Louisiana started pouring into Houston by the thousands. They joined the thousands who had evacuated before the flooding who were already packing area hotels. Busloads arrived at the Astrodome. Hearing that the Astrodome was being set up as a shelter, families and individuals who had made their way here on their own started heading towards the Astrodome, only to be told that only those evacuated from the Superdome would be housed there. With nowhere else to go, these people sat outside the Astrodome fence.

Even those in the hotels were in trouble. They left thinking they would be able to return home in 3-4 days. Few had more than a suitcase full of clothing, and now they were looking at months before they could return home, if at all. While some had private insurance companies, some of those companies would not pay until they were able to prove that their houses were destroyed, which was impossible when no one could get to their houses. These families were also not able to get FEMA funds because the had private insurance. Many of these people were not wealthy. Weeks or months of paying for hotels and eating out was just not an option. Some left the hotels. Others continued to stay at the hotels, but looked elsewhere for their meals.

Into this void stepped hundreds of individuals and organizations. Many churches who did not want to deal with Red Cross red tape, simply opened their doors to thousands of evacuees. The intent was to house the people of the Gulf Coast for weeks or months. These churches received no federal money. They were stepping out in faith that the vast needs of this homeless population would be met through the generosity of individuals in Houston and in the rest of the country.

It is now just over a week later. The numbers at the Astrodome have been cut by about a third. Red Cross shelters are emptying quickly, as well. But most of the small, independent shelters have either grown or have maintained their numbers. Because their guests are not at Red Cross shelters, they may have difficulty accessing Red Cross funds. Because they were not at the Astrodome, they were not eligible for the $2000 debit card program that FEMA briefly offered. Most of these smaller shelters fully expect to have people with them until at least December. Some of these churches are small, some with 200 or fewer members. Some are housing or feeding up to 100 evacuees. I do not know how these churches will manage without support from outside the Houston area. The people of Houston have been extremely generous in this crisis, and they will continue to be generous, but there are so many people that need help.

I have not seen the phenomenon of these smaller shelters in the national media. I hear from friends and family outside of Houston-- How can we help? Many help by donating to the Red Cross because it is the only way they know to help. I started this blog to provide alternatives in giving. If you are looking for a way to directly impact the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, I recommend contacting one of these groups and asking what they need. I have contacted some of these groups and made personal visits or know people who are personally involved. Some of them I know of by name only. Please be wise in your giving. Contact the organization personally and make a decision about which one is the best fit for you. Some of the items needed may surprise you. I never thought about the fact that many of these people brought old cars on a several hundred mile journey, and the trip wiped them out. Money is needed for parts and sometimes labor, although some groups have been able to find individuals to volunteer their time for the mechanical work. Every day brings new expenses and a new opportunity to help. Please look through the list of shelters and groups mentioned here and find a group that appeals to you. Thanks for looking. And thanks for helping. Please feel free to send me via the comment section any groups that you know of who should be listed on this site.

2 Comments:

Blogger V Cassel said...

Jill -
A group of volunteers has have developed a resource for evacuees who have come to the Milwaukee, WI area, connecting them with housing, clothing, household items and whatever other help they may need. Please see www.MilwKatrinaEvacs.org for more information.

V Cassel

3:52 PM  
Blogger Jill Manty said...

I'd like to add this to the list of shelters. Please contact me with an address and phone number where people can contact you. I noticed that the website has email addresses but not a physical address where items could be shipped.

5:23 PM  

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