Charities Respond To Harvey

 Andy Segedin  | The Nonprofit Times

The philanthropic community is responding to the Gulf Coast, which is reeling as the toll of Hurricane Harvey is being tabulated all while rains continue to hit the area. Some organizations have been thrust into disaster response while also dealing with the devastation in their own backyard.

Staff at the Greater Houston Community Foundation have been working and coordinating response remotely, according to Renee Wizig-Barrios, senior vice president and chief philanthropy officer. Power has been restored to the foundation’s office building and damage is not thought to be severe but flooding in the streets has made the headquarters inaccessible. It is not yet known when the facility will be available, though the hope is for later this week. Staff and supporters are facing personal crises as, in some cases, significant flooding has caused considerable damage to their homes, she said.

The foundation’s primary role has been to coordinate donation efforts as it has numerous times before such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and 2016 storm relief. In coordination with the city government, the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund was launched Sunday evening and had received $30,000 by 8 a.m. today.
The city and direct-responders have prioritized safety and rescue, making sure that those stranded in their homes due to flooding make it out safely. Other immediate needs that have surfaced in the direct aftermath of the storm include shelter, transportation, and clothing, according to Wizig-Barrios, also noting the difficulties some local nonprofits have had in meeting needs while facing their own brick-and-mortar damage.

Medium- and long-term needs are likely to include housing, health counseling on account of the trauma associated with the event, and employment services given the destruction of area businesses. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) should fill some gaps, but Wizig-Barrios cited Houston’s significant undocumented immigrant population and noted that many people might have lost their homes who are not eligible for FEMA support.
“It’s unprecedented. There’s still a lot of rain and it’s still an uncertain time,” she said.

The unique scope of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction makes future grant planning difficult to project. In the past, the foundation has used initial fund dollars to fund things like shelters and hotel stays that FEMA is unable to address right away. Then, as subsequent dollars flow in, additional rounds of funding are distributed to meet medium- and long-term needs like case management and home repair. Wizig-Barrios anticipates distributions to start going to responding nonprofits under the counsel of an advisory committee after the emergency evacuation stage of response concludes.
The expectation is that funding will flow in earnest for the next five to 10 days, while the issue is front of mind for donors, and that grant funding will be distributed in multiple rounds with a focus on finding pockets within the community in greatest need.

“We know that the vulnerable of our community, whether it be the elderly, low-income families…if they were already living on the margins, this could be devastating,” said Wizig-Barrios.

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