Nonprofits and faith-based groups say they’re hitting a wall as they try to connect Hurricane Harvey victims with the resources they need to get back on their feet. The problem is getting good information from governmental entities, they said.
Gulf Coast Interfaith, one of the most active faith-based local nonprofits, has been running a Harvey recovery center at Mall of the Mainland in Texas City.
One of the hiccups in trying to get services to people has been a lack of communication from state and county governments, said Joe Compian, a Gulf Coast Interfaith board member who has been heading up the recovery center.
It’s a key difference he sees between Hurricane Ike recovery in 2008 and Harvey.
“In Ike, we were very much involved in the communication flow, in this it’s been what I hear about it secondhand,” Compian said. “Transparency is not happening.”
“Everybody was working collaboratively. That doesn’t seem to be the case here.”
County Judge Mark Henry agreed with complaints of being left in the dark by the state. The county, too, hasn’t had very much direction from state agencies on how to start immediate housing assistance programs.
“We’re with them,” Henry said. “We can’t give them answers until we get them.”
Henry had met with a representative from Clear Creek Community Church who he believed to be heading up Harvey relief efforts among nonprofits, he said. But Henry said he would be happy to meet with other representatives of nonprofits to share what information he has.
“We are immensely thankful with the work the nonprofits and faith-based organizations did during Harvey,” Henry said. “That’s the last group I would want to offend.”
“I would be happy to go somewhere else if they say that’s not the right leader. The challenge is, I can’t give the same story 45 times around the county because then people are hearing different things.”
Compian acknowledged that Harvey had presented disaster response agencies with a unique challenge because millions of people were affected by the storm in three parts of state: the Houston region, Rockport and the Beaumont and Port Arthur areas.
But in Galveston County right now, the need is extreme.
“Our challenge as a community at least locally is we don’t have the housing units available of a reasonable quality,” Compian said.
Also, the federal assistance has not taken into account some issues with finding new housing, such as coming up with security deposits and finding month-to-month rentals, Compian said.
“There’s a disconnect there with regard to the realities,” Compian said. “As far as they’re concerned, the worst is over and it’s now work with your local governments, state or county to accomplish these things. That’s different from Ike.”
There’s also a lack of communication about what will happen to people once their hotel vouchers expire while they are still unable to return home, Compian said. Now, the deadline for hotel and motel vouchers is Tuesday, he said.
“What we’re seeing now is that a lot of people are not aware of options,” Compian said.
Lucille McGaskey, a volunteer at the Mall of the Mainland recovery center, echoed those concerns. Organizations working with the public have received little information about what housing assistance and options for temporary housing are available and the programs the state has announced are not yet accessible, she said.
“You really don’t know what to tell people and you don’t want to lead them wrong,” McGaskey said.