There is lots to be said about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of stories (and opinions) on what went wrong, who did or didn't do what, where to go from here.
The following came to via a family member. I thought this was great material (a little different from the norm).
Reva and I have been wondering how we could help with those "neighbors, clients & guests" who have been displaced from New Orleans into the Houston area, and finally decided to roll up our sleeves and go help!
We went to the Houston Astrodome yesterday morning where they had called for volunteers over the radio and TV stations. When we arrived, they had set up police to route the incredible traffic jam of volunteers. When we tried to park in the lot they said was reserved for volunteers, they turned us away saying they had so many volunteers that they didn't need any more until 6pm. It was AMAZING, the turnout of Houstonians that showed up!
Not to be daunted, we went on our own to the Geo. R. Brown Convention Center, where we had heard rumor that more of those devastated from the Hurricane would be sent soon. They weren't officially open yet for refugees, but their volunteer parking lot wasn't full yet, so we parked and volunteered.
We were shown the basics of the intake process, and volunteered to be "Hosts".
There were 4 main areas for Volunteers: 1) Medical/Triage, 2) Greeters, 3) Hosts, and 4)Shoppers.
1) Medical/Triage: is self-explanatory. Intake of "neighbors/clients/guests" (it was explained that we were not to refer to them as "victims", "survivors", or "refugees", which was met with a barrage of applause! Triage, as I learned as a Navy Corpsman, is a French term that has come to mean, in medical terms, to separate the casualties of combat or disaster into three (hence tri-age) components. Those who are dead or dying (called moribund), those who need immediate medical care for preservation of life, and those who can wait for medical care until the more severely wounded can be treated.
2) Greeters: were given the responsibility to stand out in lines in front of the Convention Center and literally "Greet" the busses of "neighbors, & guests" as they arrived. I thought this was somewhat wasteful of volunteer resources until we were asked to go out, as 'Hosts' and physically retrieve a busload of "guests" that had eaten little or nothing for three days, and had been living, quite literally, in that bus for the past day. The 'Greeters' would literally applaud as they got off the bus and give them a hearty "Welcome to Houston", with a handshake and a pat on the back. Most looked like shell-shock victims, some broke down and cried. They couldn't believe that they were being accepted with open arms to a City which was being tasked with such a burden to care for them. The Greeters' responsibility was to make sure they got up to the computers that would register them into the system, so that we in Houston, as well as their family and friends would be able to find them, when looking on the WEB, etc. Greeters were important!!!
3) Hosts: were then assigned to pick them up from Registration and hand-walk them to their living sections, explaining how the George R. Brown Convention Center was laid out for them and the amenities available to them. We were to stay with them until they were taken care of, and as comfortable as possible. It was emphasized that we Hosts were to team up in PAIRS, and remain so for the duration. Probably for our protection, though we never felt the perception that we needed it.
4) The Shoppers: were a large group of volunteers that assisted our "neighbors & guests" in finding the material goods (They were allowed 2 of everything, from an area that covered about 2 football fields within the Convention Center) that would help them to be more comfortable while they stay here: ie. Clothing of all descriptions (dresses, pants, shirts, blouses, socks, shoes, hats, coats, etc.); Items of Personal Hygiene (soap, towels, washcloths, toothbrushes, mouthwash, feminine products, myriads of stuff); toys for the little ones, coloring books, school supplies, pens, pencils, even roller-blades, etc. --- All donated within the last few days by the community of Houston at large. It was absolutely astonishing to see the incredible volume of stuff that had been donated to these people within such a short period of time. And as fast as these items were being taken by our "neighbors & guests", more was being replaced by volunteers that were receiving it, constantly coming in that end of the building. It's interesting to note that when they went shopping in the "mall", Larice (the mother) and Eva (the grandmother) made sure they shopped for everybody else in their family, but didn't get anything for themselves.
Let me give a brief outline of the structure of the George R. Brown Convention Center and the layout of the relief to our "neighbors & guests". The "George R. Brown" is a HUGE rectangular building into which is probably about 1 block wide and about 6 blocks long(?), and three huge stories tall. It is composed of about 1.82 million square feet of space, and ranks among the 10 largest convention centers in America. The building features 1.2 million square feet of exhibition, meeting and registration space. It has three exhibit halls, and 105 meetings rooms.
The first floor (exhibition area) is probably 40-50' high and broken up into three exhibition halls. The two outer (end) exhibition halls are about 1 city block long by 1 city block wide. The large middle exhibition hall, is about 4 city blocks long by 1 city block wide. One of the end exhibition halls is the Medical/Triage area, and the other end is the "shopping mall". The huge middle exhibition hall area is where the living quarters are located. Each small "living area" is the size of either a single air mattress (for single men or single women), or a double air mattress (for the "family" areas). There is only about 2 feet of space between your living area and the living area of your neighbor(s). A single family of eight people will take, say, four double mattresses for their "home".
The looks in their eyes when they get off the busses are like shell-shock victims. We "Hosts" help them pick up their luggage, and then escort them to their living areas. From there, we generally take them to the "shopping mall", where they can get a couple of changes of clothing, and hygiene items, games for the kids, etc. And then they generally want to get a shower and then some food. The last family we helped consisted of 3 children (3, 6, and 12 years old) 5 adults, and a senior citizen. They sort of grew on us. They said they hadn't eaten in 3 days, except for some crackers earlier that day.
There was food up on the 3rd floor, along with several large meeting rooms that had projectors showing cartoons and a football games on the entire wall. There were dozens of porta-potties against the rear wall of the exhibition halls, as well as the regular bathroom facilities.
They don't have it very good, but at least they are housed, clothed, fed, and given the minimal necessities of life. The problems are going to be many. Certainly the impact of those on drugs are already coming to the fore. With their drugs cut off, many are going into withdrawal... causing all the things you can imagine from that scenario. One woman was already raped in the Astrodome. And many have been accosted. All the people we have so far met from New Orleans have said that they want to stay here and get jobs. That can cause an interesting strain on the economy. Many of these parameters are yet to be felt in their blossoming scenarios. But the fact is that Houston has opened its arms in an effort that has been exemplary. It reminds me of the America and Americans that I remember as a child, and haven't seen in recent years. The smiles on the faces of all those thousands of volunteers, and the spirit with which their honest love and caring was witnessed, is truly inspiring.
I can only say that the look in the eyes of the leader of the last family we helped yesterday were frantic when we bid them goodbye. Laurice looked into Reva's eyes when we said goodbye, and entreated, "You're coming back tomorrow aren't you?" Reva just looked at her and said, "Of course we are!", and they each hugged for a loooong time!!! We have been making a list of those things that think they are in need of most. Things like: watches (they have none, and they need to shower during particular times due to the color of their wristbands; Laurice (the mother) requested a bible; batteries for their radio and the new toy that little 4 year old Junie got yesterday; a small set of tools (screwdrivers, etc) so they can change batteries in some of their stuff; stationery and stamps; and a calendar (none of them knew what day it was). And finally, we kicked it around and decided to buy all the adults "Journals", so they can write down their memories of the last week or so that will be forgotten all too soon. Partly so they would have it for their posterity, and partly because it should also help them to move on with their lives.
Although there were comfortable Conference Rooms for the News Groups up on the 3rd floor, I haven't seen anywhere the depth of this local call to arms for our "neighbors and guests" accurately expressed in the news media. Even though the exuberance and Can-Do attitude of the Houston Community at large has been absolutely astounding!!! There ARE great people in America!!! Even if the News and Media systems only let you see the darker slices of life. I can assure you that for every burglary, stabbing and assault you here about on the news, there are countless sacrifices being made by people every day to help and assist their brothers and sisters nation-wide!!! If there are twenty incidents where Americans sacrifice themselves or their assets for their neighbors, and one stabbing on the "southside"... guess which one gets to air on the 6 o'clock news???
Mattress-Mac (a local furniture store owner) has opened up part of his HUGE furniture store to house and feed some of our "neighbors & guests". Volunteers at the Geo. R. Brown were volunteering to take some of the little children (who had no parents or relatives or friends) home with them so they wouldn't have to be subjected to being alone and afraid in this maze of refugees and trauma. People all over the city have taken people into their homes, churches and businesses.... Others have donated large sums of money... And even family and friends have asked what they can do to help... It is just amazing to see the spirit of America come alive in this post-disaster period. And it shows me how we, as Americans, become better human beings when the going gets tough. We are inherently great spiritual human beings here in America! I've seen it happen over and over again in times of tragedy and despair. Not all nations, unfortunately, can say the same.
I am proud of my family, friends and neighbors, and I am proud to be an American!!!
For those of you who can't contribute directly, but want to do something to help with the relief effort of these devastated "neighbors & guests", you can be incredibly effective in this effort if you simply kneel down before your head hits the pillow tonight, and ask for His blessings for those in need and on those providing assistance.