Local group holds FEMA demonstration outside Greenspoint Recovery Center

'FEMA has come and visited people--and that's all they've done'

By Rose-Ann Aragon - Reporter

HOUSTON - Among the lines of people gathered outside of Greenspoint Mall to get assistance from the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Texas Organizing Project (TOP) gathered to demand that FEMA provide better assistance to those affected by Harvey. 

The Texas Organizing Project Education Fund organizes Black and Latino communities in Harris, Bexar, and Dallas counties.

"Demand justice for black and brown Houstonians after Hurricane Harvey," said Robert Holley, an organizer with TOP.

Members of TOP called on FEMA to increase transparency for the community by creating a comprehensive web-based map and data set of Hurricane Harvey damage that includes a geographic view of all pending and approved applications for assistance.

This comes after complaints throughout the community that FEMA's help hasn't been felt by those affected by the storm.

"I haven't seen any FEMA money," said Chantelle Jones, who was in line at Greenspoint. "I only got $2,000 when we went through Katrina -- and we lost everything ... $2,000 was not enough."

TOP is also asking FEMA to ensure safe and healthy housing for people affected by Hurricane Harvey by keeping hotel vouchers and rent assistance and other housing support in place until people's homes are livable. 

"We need more housing. We need vouchers. We need stuff like that here in the city of Houston," said Jermaine Anderson, a flood survivor who will not have a place to live come October. "They're wanting us to relocate 100 miles from home. We can't go that far from home."

A main concern with TOP is transportation. TOP is asking FEMA to ensure dependable transportation for working families by providing taxi, Uber, or Lyft vouchers for workers who have flooded cars, or who are relocated and have more than an hour to commute to work by foot and public transportation, as well as run shuttle buses connecting outlying areas and work with METRO to provide free services for victims to get to work and other appointments.

"Mold is collecting in their houses, and they're having to stay in their houses because there is nowhere to go. No way to go. Many of them need medicine and can't get out to get their medicine," said Betty Gregory, an organizer with TOP.

TOP is also asking that FEMA provide intentional focus on disadvantaged communities by hiring more navigators and sending them to historically disadvantaged communities, conducting seminars for FEMA benefits in multiple languages and working to dispel rumors that discourage people from applying.

Members of the community expressed their concern and emphasized that Harvey survivors are in desperate need of assistance. 

"FEMA has come and visited people, and that's all that they've done," said Oscar Thomas, a community organizer with TOP.

TOP is also asking that FEMA's solutions be more "appropriate," saying that giving money for one month's rent is not feasible for those who are dealing with relocating and insurance.

Lydia Balderas, who lost her home to the flood, said the community is tired of dealing with FEMA.

"They come and stand in line. (FEMA closes) the lines. They won't talk to them. They say, 'Come back. Come back,' and it's been hurting. The community is tired," Balderas said.

FEMA told KPRC that it is reaching out and serving all people, regardless of race, religions, or socioeconomic status. FEMA also said it has hired extra positions locally to help with inefficiencies, and is working on longer term housing. As for transportation, FEMA is asking people to rely on volunteer organizations to meet those needs.

FEMA representatives said the best and most efficient way to apply is online and by calling during non-peak hours -- the early morning or afternoon.

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