‘It’s sad that we have to have this happen for us to come together’
The numbers are staggering: a death toll of 39, rising almost by the hour. Nearly 50,000 homes in Houston alone flooded and uninhabitable. 30 percent of Harris County submerged – an area that is equivalent in size to Chicago and New York City combined. 294,000 people without power, from Corpus Christi to Port Arthur. Nearly 300,000 requests for assistance already filed with the Federal Emergency Management Agency – and that figure is from late Thursday.
One hardly knows how to address a calamity of this magnitude.
But then, one wouldn’t know Cody Hebert.
Cody is a 26-year-old recent graduate of Lamar University in Beaumont. Born in Port Arthur and now living in Houston, Cody pretty much has the three corners of the triangle that Harvey’s record-shattering rainfall hit hardest covered – first Houston, then Port Arthur and Beaumont.
He found a way to fight back – and has become the face, or at least one of the many faces, of volunteer efforts to help rescue flood victims and get them the help they need.
At first, Cody’s efforts were confined to helping rescue some friends. Then he ended up getting stuck himself. He decided to use his social media skills to link up people who needed rescue with people who could provide it, using his network of friends, some of whom are in the U.S. Coast Guard and the “Cajun Navy,” a ragtag group of volunteer heroes from Louisiana who have rescued hundreds. He even used his contacts to get the Coast Guard to rescue his mom and brothers from his now-uninhabitable childhood home in Port Arthur.
Cody, who during normal times works full-time as a data analyst for food giant Sysco, and has a side business doing graphic design, this week came together with his entrepreneurial friends and quickly launched a group called Entrepreneurs Taking Action. The effort is brand new; in the swirling, chaotic aftermath since Harvey made landfall last weekend, there hasn’t been time to do much with the site.
The new group’s purpose appears to be two-fold: right now it is hooking rescuers up with people needing rescue. (When Voices for Human Needs tracked Cody down on Thursday, he was preparing to depart for Port Arthur and Beaumont, which were hit in the previous 48 hours, with scores of people trapped and needing rescue.) And in the immediate future, Cody will be collecting supplies from anyone who can donate and making sure those supplies get to the areas and people in need – such as the nearly 10,000 displaced people ensconced at the George R Brown Convention Center without adequate resources.
Looking ahead, perhaps three months from now, Cody says the major challenge facing local communities will be, how to find shelter for the more than 30,000 displaced residents? “We can get food, we can get clothes, we can replace things. But the main obstacle will be finding shelter for displaced residents,” he said.
And, as Congress returns to work next Tuesday to address a number of budget issues – including emergency assistance for Texas, Louisiana and beyond – Cody has a simple message.
“This isn’t the time for divisive rhetoric,” he says. “It’s time for us to come together. That’s what we do as Americans. Just show us some compassion. It’s sad that we have to have this happen for us to come together. Let’s take this and feed off it. Let’s create a united front. Let’s all come together and take action.”
Coming together is going to be a lot of work. As the waters finally begin to recede in parts of East Texas, we see, once again, how disasters such as floods do not treat all people equally. There was an early 20th century frontiersman named W.B. “Bat” Masterson. David Von Drehle, in a Washington Post column, cites Masterson’s insight that everyone gets the same amount of ice in life. The rich get theirs in the summer; the poor in the winter.
The Root tackled the racial and economic disparities exposed by Harvey in a thoughtful piece earlier this week:
“Houston was already in over its head with poverty numbers as high as the next round of flooding: Nearly 30 percent of Houston residents struggle with income below the poverty level, along with 17 percent of Harris County residents. And nearly 26 percent of black residents in Houston are living below the poverty level, surpassed by 27 percent of Latinx residents.
“In a more glaring data point, 45 percent of households earning $10,000 or less in income are black, while 80 percent of households earning $200,000 or more are white. So if your neighborhood is flooded out, where the hell do you go?”
Meanwhile, here are some ways you can help Harvey’s victims: what follows are a number of charities that are providing emergency relief of various kinds in the Houston area; some larger organizations are likely to be setting up relief efforts in other hard-hit communities in Texas and Louisiana. This list includes community-based organizations, with extra emphasis on groups serving low-income communities and communities of color.
Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, established by the Greater Houston Community Foundation and Mayor Sylvester Turner.
Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund, of Texas Organizing Project Education Fund.
Listing of local relief efforts from Colorlines.com: How to Donate Money and Other Aid to Communities of Color in Houston. Includes organizations serving people with disabilities, immigrants, the homeless, and other underserved groups.
listings of larger organizations doing disaster relief related to Harvey: https://www.charitynavigator.org/index.cfm?bay=content.view&cpid=5239&from=homepage