Years from now I suspect what most will remember of Harvey, besides 50 inches of rain in 4 days, was Houstonians rushing to rescue one another. Rescue quickly gave way to relief as we gathered supplies, distributed food, and mucked homes. Six weeks later, for many of us, the mucking is done, the enormous trash piles mostly hauled away. Much of Houston is on the road to recovery: putting life back (mostly) the way it was…removing the dank stench of mold and bringing back the thousands of houses stripped to the studs for the families who call them home.
But what of Houston’s poor? Families at or below the poverty line are often devastated by events such as Harvey. Without flood insurance or financial margin, the poor often find themselves in dire situations as employment is interrupted and expenses pile up. As in Katrina, the forces of gentrification are upon them. Letters have already begun to appear on the doors of the poor telling them their houses will need to be brought up to code or be condemned. People have been forced from apartments but still forced to pay half rent. What people need in large portions of our city is not recovery but sensible, sensitive rebuilding.
There are neighborhoods in Houston for whom Harvey provides an opportunity, a chance to make neighborhoods better than they were…rebuilt into places with access to fresh food, job training, and affordable housing. This is where we at St. John the Divine are focussing next. We have established partnerships with churches from a variety of denominations in the Northeast and Northshore neighborhoods. We have mobilized hundreds of hours and people to work in those neighborhoods. We will begin hosting outside teams at St. John the Divine to help in the rebuilding effort. We will do what our neighborhood partners tell us is needed, and we will emphasize long-range change over charity. We will leverage what we have historically been very good at: connecting the big hearts of Houstonians with big needs. Swinging a hammer is good, but, as Jim Loftis says, its’ time to weaponize our rolodexes.
We’ve done it before. We are about to do it again.
Lives will be changed. The Good News will be shared. God will be glorified.
“The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” -Zechariah 8:5-6, NIV