Partners of The Way Home gather at the Coalition offices to learn about the plan to move people out of disaster shelters.

August 28th, 2017 brought the first day of rainfall from Hurricane Harvey, a storm that would come to be known as one of the costliest hurricanes on record, causing catastrophic flooding and over $120 billion in damage in southeast Texas.

On the days leading up to the storm, The Way Home partners played a vital role in trying to keep those experiencing homelessness in the Houston region safe and dry. Street outreach teams from different homeless service providers worked together to move as many unsheltered individuals into shelters as they could. Local homeless emergency shelters would also operate at more than 150 percent capacity during this time to make sure no one was turned away and would continue to do so for months after the storm.

Salvation Army of Greater Houston was one organization that had shelters who would not refuse anyone in the wake of the storm. According to Alvin Migues, Director of Emergency Disaster Services of Salvation Army Texas, “We are in a continual process of preparation and work closely with the City of Houston, Harris County and Texas Office of Emergency Management year-round and leading up to a known event such as Hurricane Harvey. Once we knew that Hurricane Harvey was headed our direction, we immediately moved assets down range to be in place to respond as quickly as possible.”

During and immediately after the storm, the Coalition for the Homeless launched a blog that helped broadcast important information about emergency and disaster shelters, partner agency information, and other important updates on the disaster and available resources. Also, because of The Way Home’s expertise in housing, the Coalition as lead agency was called to the disaster shelter at the George R. Brown Convention center where staff members began to figure out how to gather information on those living in disaster shelters as well as how to help them exit the disaster shelters.

Simtech Solutions, Inc. reached out to the Coalition, offering to donate their services in the aftermath of Harvey. Given their area of expertise, the company developed an app that The Way Home partner agency staff members were able to use to do basic assessments on those living in disaster shelters and figure out important characteristics like household size and whether they were immediately eligible for FEMA assistance.

From assessments conducted at the shelters, staff were able to figure out that a lot of the people remaining in the disaster shelters for weeks – and even months – after the storm had likely been living with friends or family prior the storm. This meant that their names were not on leases or mortgages, making them ineligible to receive FEMA benefits. Without those benefits they lacked the ability to leave disaster shelters on their own. As a result, two housing assistance programs were created.

New Hope Housing, Inc. responded to the disaster by very quickly establishing Residences on Emancipation, a dormitory-style temporary housing program for individuals that was located at the old Star of Hope Women and Family shelter. They were able to use their 24-year history of managing housing for vulnerable populations and adapt that model for short-term housing assistance. Guests would come from disaster shelters to Residents on Emancipation where there were over 290 beds available within 74 different units, with shared common spaces including of a full-service kitchen, clinic, and laundry facilities. After arrival, guests were assessed and connected with supportive social services with goal of eventually being able to transition into permanent housing.

At the same time, the Coalition for the Homeless collaborated with local governments, federal agencies, and the American Red Cross to create an alternate assistance program called Housing For Harvey, a program for families and individuals for whom Residences on Emancipation wasn’t a good fit.

Continue Reading: Housing For Harvey >