Hundreds still need help in Houston

BY PJ HELLER | HOUSTON | January 16, 2001



"The part of Houston that was hit with the flood was the part that could least afford it."

—David Jobe


The list of residents seeking assistance in the wake of

last summer's Tropical Storm Allison continued to grow

Saturday as more than 100 people lined up to meet with

caseworkers.

Officials estimate that hundreds more are yet to be

interviewed.

The event, held at the Kashmere Multi-Service Center

here, was the latest in a series of mass interviews held

by caseworkers organized by the United Way of the Texas

Gulf Coast.

At least three other sessions are planned in different

neighborhoods over the next two months, according to

David Jobe, manager of information and referral services

for United Way.

"We'll continue to do them as long as they're needed,"

Jobe promised.

Requests for assistance are continuing to come in from

residents hard hit by the storm, which last June dumped

more than three feet of rain on the area. More than

119,000 residents registered for assistance from the

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As of mid

December, the agency said it had doled out more than $1

billion in federal and state disaster relief to affected

residents and businesses.

FEMA officials said the number of people eligible for

assistance following the flooding has already made

Houston the largest disaster ever in a city and county.

Even so, seven months after the disaster requests for

additional assistance are still continuing to be fielded

by the United Way, prompting the mass interviewing

sessions.

Some of those affected by the storm have remained in

their damaged homes and no work or even a clean out has

been done on their residences. Mold and mildew grow on

the floors and walls creating a health risk.

"There aren't a whole lot but there still are some of

those cases," Jobe admitted.

Numerous theories have been put forward as to why the

pace of the recovery seems so slow and people are still

coming forward.

"The part of Houston that was hit with the flood was the

part that could least afford it," said Jobe, noting that

many of those affected were low income families and the

elderly. "The regular media outlets like newspapers,

television and the Internet, those people might not have

access to that."

He said attempts were made to canvass neighborhoods

after the floods. He said the idea of the government

wanting to help was met with skepticism in some

quarters; in others, people simply were unaware of what

they had to do after contacting FEMA.

As the United Way's One Houston United campaign

continues to pick up steam -- a telethon/concert is

scheduled Jan. 26 and the faith-based community was

rallied at a Convocation of Clergy last week -- word

that help is still available is filtering out.

Jobe said he expects word to continue to spread neighbor

to neighbor as well as from within the faith community.

Other organizations, such as Head Start programs for

children, are also contacting United Way to refer people

to the agency.

Information gathered at the interview sessions is

prioritized by case supervisors and then funneled to the

loosely knit Disaster Recovery Interfaith (a meeting to

discuss establishing a more formal interfaith is

scheduled Thursday).

Residents with immediate needs can get assistance

quickly (an unmet needs committee has been established).

Others with less pressing needs may have to wait a week

or two or up to a month.

Crisis counselors are also making their services

available without charge. Some 34 counselors working

through the Southeast Texas Flood Recovery Project have

since the end of July been offering short-term crisis

counseling to individuals, families and groups. Those

counseling sessions can last for up to 12 sessions,

about three or four months. Those requiring more help

are referred to long-term mental health care sources.

The counseling effort, sponsored under a grant from

FEMA, is part of the state's Mental Health Retardation

Authority.

Houston resident Sheila Wyborny said the storm had a

major effect on people.

"First there's the trauma of the flood, then the

exhaustion -- physical and mental -- of six months or

more of restoration, and then the reality that it could

all happen again," she wrote in a letter to the Houston

Press.

"Every period of prolonged heavy rain is a gut-twisting

nightmare," she said. "You don't sleep. You watch the

bayou."

Counseling officials said that since the flood they have

seen an increase in alcohol and drug abuse, domestic

violence and anxiety. The biggest issue has been

depression, primarily among the elderly, they said.

"A lot (of people) feel they didn't get enough money

from FEMA to do all the repairing," said Susana Fowler,

assistant team manager for the recovery project. "A lot

of people have not been able to go back home."

"We make them able to cope with their problems like

depression, anxiety, fears, fear of rains," added

outreach worker Asgar Maqzi. "Some people may be fearful

when it rains. They may be depressed and very fearful.

Some children won't want to sleep in their own rooms.

They want to be all the time with their parents because

it is raining and they are too fearful."

In addition to counseling in English, services are

available in Spanish, Vietnamese and in sign language.

Counselors initially went door-to-door in the hardest

hit areas, offering both crisis counseling and providing

referrals to other disaster service agencies. Fowler

said about 3,000 people sought some type of assistance.

The counseling program is expected to end sometime in

September unless additional funding can be obtained,

Fowler said.

"We would like for the community to know that we are

here and helping," she said.


Related Topics:

Mold is long-term flood issue

Volunteers sought for TX response

Will storms change climate debate?


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