Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The real situation in Houston now

Sometimes collecting money for an assistance dog feels trivial compared to a crisis like the one described below.

From my friend Pat:


I know the woman who wrote the message below quite well; I've known her
online for more than ten years. This will not be rumor, but simple truth.

My friend is definitely of the 'be prepared' school of thought, and she
taught her daughter to do the same.

Not only is this a testament to the values of being prepared, it's also a
rather serious indictment of the present US administration: apparently,
they aren't doing a hell of a lot better than they did in New Orleans. With
all that time to get straightened out too....

It shows you what happens when cronies or political donors are appointed
rather than people with actual qualifications (qualifications other than
how much they bribed....err... 'donated' to someone's campaign, that is).

The message is unchanged, just as I received it, except that I put a few
more paragraph breaks in and took the writer's email address out.



My daughter Jennifer lives in Houston outside the outer beltway. Three
days ago, her electricity came back on. Since the hurricane, services that
we take for granted are a hardship, even for the people who are lucky
enough to have power. At the grocery store, people are allowed into the
store accompanied by store employees. Only 20 people are allowed in at a

They can get a limited selection of groceries - milk, eggs and bread being
very precious and hard to get. They are then checked out using cash. The
lines are long and Jenny has waited upwards to a couple hours for food. Gas
lines are the same. This is still happening on a daily basis for her. Of
course, she considers herself one of the lucky ones - she had emergency
cash on hand and has non-perishable food to last several weeks.

Now, magnify Jenny's plight by millions. Not hundreds, not thousands,
MILLIONS. 1.2 million people are still without power in and around
Houston. These people are running out of cash, are having difficulty
getting around to get groceries because they need gas for their cars, and
are doing the best they can to survive. Neighbors and family are helping
each other. But there are people there without that family or friend

Since she's capable of caring for herself, Jenny decided to volunteer in
some way to help the people who've lost everything, including their homes.
Because the news is filled with headlines about the latest political
campaign, Houston's massive cleanup and rebuilding its infrastructure have
passed from the public's eye.

Jenny has been volunteering at a Red Cross shelter for the past 3 days. The
shelter is an old big box store that was closed down. The Red Cross has
set up cots, handed out blankets, and given each person a small bag
of travel-size personal toiletries. Port-A-Potties and the trailer
showers have been set up outside for hygienic purposes. Hand sanitizer is
scattered throughout the shelter to help people keep clean. Each day, more
busses arrive with more people. An entire group of mentally disabled
people is now housed in this shelter. Their own facility is gone. The
website says that only people who are being bussed back are in this

However, Jenny says there are several people there who claim they were
homeless before the hurricane. There are about 1000 people at this place.
So far.

There are 40 Red Cross volunteers - 2 groups are from Taiwan and Mexico's
version of Red Cross. One individual is the "mental health officer." In
trying to handle the crisis, the Red Cross volunteers have been at the
shelter from 6 AM to 10 PM - without breaks. Many have had nothing to eat
all day. Anyone who appears to possess food is descended upon by the
clients and there's simply no way to share with everyone. So because the
Red Cross workers can't take a break, they are simply not eating.

There is no way to cook food. The Red Cross is handing out self-heating
MREs (Meals-Ready-To-Eat). Tonight, Verizon donated 100 pizzas and 43
sandwiches to this shelter. Jenny said the "clients" fell on the food like
starving wolves. Many of them have had little to eat for days.

The volunteers are there to help the people fill out forms to get aid, try
to get them whatever they need as far as personal stuff (some only came
with the clothes on their backs) and generally help people get settled with
a cot and corner to call their own until FEMA and other emergency measures
can be taken.

From what I understand, FEMA has been so overwhelmed that the supply line
is backed up and people are not getting the resources they need. The
newspapers paint a rosier picture, but the reality is, thousands
and thousands of people have lost not only their homes, but their

Many of the clients come up to the Red Cross personnel and ask if they can
help find a job. They understand the predicament they're in, and are
desperate for work to help themselves. Sadly, there aren't any jobs
available and even if there were, the Red Cross can't give them one.

Up close and personal - Jenny says the biggest issue is FOOD. These
people, including the workers, are going hungry. At different times during
the day, she says even the Red Cross workers have broken down over the
misery of not being able to alleviate the hunger. Sure, the clients are
getting at least one meal a day, which is better than nothing, but for
bodies used to 3 meals a day, its hard. One Red Cross worker hid under a
desk so no one could see her crying. Then she wiped her tears, dusted off
her hands and went back to work.

I am asking each of you to go to the Red Cross website and donate money or
your time. If you can go down there to volunteer, please go give the aid
workers help if its possible. If you can, take a busload of people with
you - maybe your church group or your cheerleading squad or your boy scout
troupe. I realize school is in session and this is probably unlikely. But
you could ask your schools and work to do a fund-raising drive for the Red

I realize a lot of folk were not happy with the Red Cross a few years ago
due to issues that made the news. But that has changed. Jenny has
volunteered to man a TV hotline for aid, a FEMA POD center and the Red
Cross shelter she's now at. She says the Red Cross, BY FAR, is the most
organized, most helpful and most reliable at getting the goods and services
out there. But they are being slowly overwhelmed by the magnitude
of Houston's dire straits. Here's the link for Houston's Red Cross:

Please, if you can help, donate.

Thank you!

P.S. You have my permission to send this email to anyone as you see fit.




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