Deep frost is the latest disaster to hit Houston’s needy
The brother and sister were getting by on a fixed income without a car when the storm left them and many neighbors without lights and heat for days. The storm shattered their pipes, leaving some in the country’s fourth largest city without running water for three weeks and more, as many could not afford repairs. Their dire situation prevented them from bathing and forced them to use buckets as a toilet.
The storm, which experts say caused billions of dollars in damage, is just the latest disaster in recent years to disproportionately affect Houston’s communities of color and its poorest residents. These include major floods in 2015 and 2016, devastation of Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and, to a lesser extent, Tropical Storm Imelda two years later, a series of plant and refinery fires and explosions, and of course the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s no surprise that many of these communities are more than frustrated with what they feel like a lack of assistance whenever a disaster strikes.
“For some reason we’re not getting (help). They’re putting us on the back burner,” said Ernest Collins, 56.
“Because we are poor,” added a neighbor.
Local officials, including Mayor Sylvester Turner, say they have focused their recent recovery efforts on helping underserved people, but their job is far from over. Community advocates fear that residents will continue to have difficulty accessing aid and that this will exacerbate the ailments plaguing their communities, including income inequality and lack of health care.
Last month storm caused power outages across much of Texas and left more than 1.4 million Houston-area customers without power. The blackouts also forced millions of people in Texas and elsewhere, including the Mississippi, having to boil their water because the treatment plants lost their electricity. About 25% of all Houston water customers have experienced some kind of broken pipe leak. Of the 25 people killed by the storm in the Houston area, 17 were blacks or Latinos.
Robert Bullard, professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University, said predominantly black and Latin American neighborhoods, like the Fifth Ward, faced challenges from the outset caused by residential segregation and racial discriminatory practices that denied these people mortgages. and ready.
“It’s life in a lot of these neighborhoods… struggling, having to live on a modest income, barely,” Bullard said.
As she stood outside her house, Hester Collins, 67, said the helplessness of her situation fueled her depression. The only momentary comfort she took was listening to R&B music from her neighbor’s house.
“So I just have to face what God blessed me to have,” she said.
A block away, a group of friends who had informally formed a relief effort stood in front of a U-Haul truck, handing out water and other supplies.
“It’s just us, as Texans, taking care of each other,” said Jacqueline Westman, who once lived in Houston but now resides in Austin and whose group has raised thousands of dollars to pay several. supply gifts in Fifth Ward.
About 10 miles northeast in another historically black neighborhood, Trinity-Houston Gardens, running water was restored to Marie Johnson’s home after she spent nearly two weeks without it.
West Street Recovery, a nonprofit created after Hurricane Harvey to help repair homes damaged by flooding, was working with plumbers to fix broken pipes for residents like Johnson, who cannot afford to do it.
Johnson, 71, whose home was damaged during Harvey, said she was grateful for West Street’s help as “the government is doing nothing.” The group was also repairing plumbing in the adjacent homes of Johnson’s two sisters and his niece.
Trinity-Houston Gardens and similar neighborhoods have also had to contend with Pollution industrial facilities and refineries; and a lack of flood mitigation. In 2019, state officials announced that a cancer cluster had been identified in the Fifth Ward and a nearby predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, Kashmere Gardens, and could be linked to a rail yard. .
“We need to invest in extreme systematic changes that (…) protect people from disasters as they arise and help people cope with the disaster they have already suffered,” said Becky Selle, co-founder of West Street. Recovery.
Some residents who were still waiting for their houses repaired after Harvey now face additional damage from last month’s storm, said Keith Downey, president of Kashmere Gardens Super Neighborhood, a community group that works with the city to prioritize and meet local needs.
A city and county relief fund that has raised more than $ 11 million will provide assistance with repairs. But residents were also encouraged to seek help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA assistance is limited, however, as the agency provided just $ 56 million in storm relief assistance to the entire state of Texas on Friday.
An analysis from Texas Housers, a nonprofit that works on housing issues, found that among people who sought FEMA help after Harvey, black and Latino applicants were turned down at rates higher than white candidates. The analysis also found that the poorer a candidate, the more likely he or she would be denied FEMA assistance, said Zoe Middleton, co-director of Texas Housers in Southeast Texas.
FEMA spokesperson Alberto Pillot said the agency wanted “everyone affected by the winter storm to recover as quickly as possible.”
And the mayor of Houston said the city is doing all it can to help residents and “stabilize the situation.”
But no surprise after the repeated disappointments Of past recovery efforts, some of Houston’s black and Latino residents remain skeptical.
“In recent memory, nothing says (to residents) that the system will work for them,” said Huey German-Wilson, president of Trinity-Houston Gardens Super Neighborhood.
German-Wilson said that despite being exhausted and at times disheartened by efforts to get help from her neighbors, she will move forward.
“We continue to work with our communities to say, ‘No, we’re not going to be overwhelmed and we’re not going to give in to this.'”
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