Galveston County groups that rely on volunteers to help bolster recovery efforts after Hurricane Harvey are starting to see a decrease in the number of people helping out — even as the demand for help remains.
During the first year and a half after Harvey, volunteer groups played a major role in recovery work, particularly for underserved and low-income residents.
But time and tiredness have started to wear away at the number of people volunteering to help with rebuilding or repairing flood-damaged homes, Ben Baldwin, the executive director of the 4B Disaster Response Network, said.
“It’s dropped off quite a bit,” Baldwin said on Friday. “We’re having to work pretty hard now to try to get people out in the area.”
The disaster response network is a network of churches that organizes members to volunteer in Galveston and southern Harris counties.
“I think a lot of people in the area just don’t understand how much need is still out there,” Baldwin said. “There are still thousands of people in Galveston County that still need help. A lot of folks have no idea how many people are still in need.”
The people who do realize the enormity of the problem also are dealing with volunteer fatigue, Baldwin said. A lack of significant progress in recovery over a year can be disheartening and weigh on a person, he said.
To address the issue, the disaster network has adjusted some of its plans to encourage more people to volunteer. The network has started organizing bigger volunteer days on the first Saturday of every month.
The network also started reaching out to other organizations to try to spur large-group volunteer efforts, Baldwin said.
Last week, Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said the county would organize a volunteer day once every three months, when county employees will band together to work in Harvey-afflicted areas.
Henry called for the volunteer day after speaking to Baldwin, he said.
“Hopefully, we’ll lead by example,” Henry said.
Henry also is contemplating a program in which county employees would be paid their normal wages to volunteer during work hours, though he hasn’t officially proposed the idea.
“Ideally, I’d like to get enough people who want to volunteer their time out of pure volunteerism,” Henry said. “If that doesn’t work, maybe I’ll come back to commissioners and say ‘Would you all consider paying them for four hours a quarter?’”
Hurricane Harvey made landfall in late August 2017. Over the course of five days, the hurricane dumped more than 50 inches on parts of the county. The flood waters damaged as many as 20,000 homes in the county.
Details about the county’s volunteer days have not yet been announced.