S.O.S. for a Just Recovery: Harvey and Irma
Much attention needs to be paid to the fact that moderate-income residents will return to live in flood-ravaged homes/apartments before they are gutted and sanitized because they won’t be able to afford to pay the rent and also to pay to live somewhere else during repair. This will lead to residents becoming ill very quickly from living in contaminated houses/rental units. This extreme challenge will be invisible if flooded residents hesitate to seek medical care. The summer heat and humidity of the east Texas area will exacerbate this problem.
Identify children whose schools have been flooded before alternate schools are established. They will be particularly susceptible to staying in flooded homes because they will not have anywhere else to go throughout the day. Again, illnesses from living in contaminated conditions will become common.
The use of small, core houses (El Rapido) on the property of lower-income home owners will secure the land/location and permit “recovery in place.” This recommendation should be put forth immediately so that disaster funds won’t be wasted on mobile homes.
Accelerate Section 8 rent subsidy eligibility and repair/construct apartment units. The disadvatange of the interests of renters, who have less power to speak to their needs, must be continually articulated by achieving recovery of rental housing, be it as part of owner-occupied rental property or larger, multi-unit structures.
Staff hired to register survivors for government recovery benefits must have basic credentials and be trained for high quality “customer service.” While yet again the government promises to overcome past problems to have a system of aid application that is efficient, fair and accessible, this will not happen unless the process is monitored. The staff must be given a sense of their own control of good performance and managed and retrained regularly. The “institutional violence” against storm survivors put upon them from a poorly run response organization often outweighs the impact of the direct effects of the catastrophe.
Special attention must be addressed to undocumented workers who will not seek assistance despite statements by officials that they will not be harassed when seeking food/water and shelter. They will end up as “homeless” people living in contaminated, abandoned buildings.
Establish food distribution points near damaged neighborhood stores. Access to food through neighborhood stores will be halted due to the damage to the stores, thus eliminating a prime food source in food “deserts.”
Children receiving food at school have now lost two of their daily meals and will be very challenged to get food until the flooded schools are cleaned and opened again or the children assigned to other ones. Substitute feeding programs must be developed quickly.
Alert citizens to the “hidden” toxics in the land, waterways and old buildings. These have flowed away from the source and contaminated wider areas. Identify where the major sources are and how the toxics have contaminated wider areas. Make the information public.