For Survivors of Hurricane Harvey, Recovery is a Marathon

It has been two years since Hurricane Harvey. In the wake of the storm, Houston Furniture Bank was transformed by the participation of the Houston community. Individuals and businesses stepped up to meet the need, donating their furniture, their time and their financial resources to help their neighbors recover from the storm. In the beginning, the problem was visible, with soggy furniture lining the sidewalks of our city and lines around the block at Houston Furniture Bank of families hoping to receive assistance. Today, many are still struggling to rebuild their homes, recover from lost income and unexpected expenses, and overcome the trauma of having lost everything they own. Since Hurricane Harvey, Houston Furniture Bank has had the privilege of providing furniture assistance to 3,500 Houston families who were affected by the storm. Even two years later, we continue to meet families who have been living with friends and family, or doing without the essential furniture that they have not been able to purchase. Meeting these families is an important reminder that for many in our community, recovery from Hurricane Harvey continues.

Lisa Ward is a survivor of Hurricane Harvey. Like many of her neighbors, her recovery has been long and hard-won, replete with a marathon of paperwork, dogged persistence and a lot of hard work. Two years later, she continues toward recovery one small step at a time. We met Lisa at Houston Furniture Bank as she received furniture assistance for her Bear Creek home. We witnessed her overcome by gratitude, happy to be one step closer to recovery.

Lisa moved to Houston in 1993 to be near her family. Purchased in 1995, she chose her Bear Creek home for its proximity to good schools, its large yard for her young nephew and the fact that her parents lived in the same subdivision. A one-story home, its 1800 square feet included a garage, three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a nice kitchen. Lisa’s favorite features were the kitchen’s bay window and the good closets throughout.  Over the years, Lisa decorated each room, making it her own.

Lisa’s home was one of the casualties of the decision to open up the Addicks Dam. She remembers the chaos of that night, when the water rose much more quickly than she ever expected. With her car already flooded, she was able to evacuate in the full-size pickup of a neighbor from across the street. With the water already lapping at the cab, they convinced a reluctant couple in their 60s to come with them, taking care to remember their life-saving medication. Leaving their homes behind, the group evacuated to a nearby McDonald’s where they stood in shock as boats and fire trucks staged the rescue of their neighbors.

Lisa’s home was flooded with 4 and a half feet of contaminated water. She lost all her furniture and every item of clothing. The walls, appliances and flooring were destroyed. The garage door collapsed under the weight of the water. Even many items that escaped the water were eventually damaged by moisture, like the ceiling fans that warped, the garage ceiling that crumbled and the moulding around her windows that rotted.

“In the beginning it was worse,” she recalls, “but even today, sometimes I go to look for an item only to realize that it is long gone.”

Besides those necessary items, irreplaceable items of sentimental value including keepsakes from her grandmother and family photos were destroyed by flood waters.  “In the beginning it was worse,” she recalls, but even today Lisa sometimes goes to look for an item only to realize that it is long gone. Holidays are especially hard.

It was two weeks before the waters receded enough for Lisa to return to her home to assess the damage. It was two months before the moisture level came down to a level where rebuilding could begin. For the first seven months, she stayed with family, in a house with over twenty other people.

Lisa recalls that when she did return to her home, she couldn’t see across the street because of the massive debris piles of now useless items in front of each home. She remembers how a line of cars streamed past her home, filming the scene as she and her neighbors struggled to come to grips with the devastation. She also remembers the out-of-town restaurateurs coming in to prepare them hot meals.

With years left on her mortgage, Lisa was unable to walk away from her home. Two years later, she and many of her neighbors are still struggling, both financially and emotionally. Lisa’s sister lives in the same neighborhood and was also flooded. After the storm, both arrived at their parents’ home in the same neighborhood, which mercifully was spared. Lisa recalls how hard it was for her parents to see their daughters laid low by the tragedy. “They didn’t know what to do,” she recalls. “They told us not to cry.”

Lisa has experienced anxiety since the storm. Though she once enjoyed the rain, now she is filled with anxiety during bad weather. “People need to know that even though its a year and a half later, that we are still dealing with this,” she said. “It’s not just me, it my neighbors. Everytime it starts thundering and lightning.” Lisa has been able to take advantage of counseling services offered to survivors of Hurricane Harvey to help her overcome her anxiety.

 “There’s so much left to do,” she told us. “It’s just everything.”

Since the storm, Lisa has been proactive about her recovery, seeking out resources to help her get back on her feet. “There’s so much left to do,” she told us. “It’s just everything.” Lisa has a waterproof box where she keeps all the paperwork related to her recovery; countless forms, photos and correspondence. It has been a long process, full of ups and downs. More than once she has arrived at the end of an involved application process only to discover that the funding had run out.

Lisa received help from FEMA which she put towards replacing walls, floors, doors, windows, moisture barrier, insulation and appliances. When it came to furniture, Lisa gratefully received some donated items from friends and her church. Even so, nearly two years after the storm, she was still nervous to have friends over, unable to offer them a place to sit.

“I know they would understand,” she said, “but I just haven’t wanted anyone there.”

Lisa then received a call from a caseworker at Baptist Child and Family Services, informing her that as a survivor of Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, she qualified to receive furniture assistance through Houston Furniture Bank. When we met her at 8220 Mosley Road, Lisa was filled with gratitude. “I thought it was used furniture,” she told us. “I didn’t know it was going to be new stuff. I just feel overwhelmed.” Lisa said she was looking forward to sleeping on a comfortable bed, setting her lamp and books on her bedside table and eating at her new kitchen table, instead of over a tray. She is excited to invite her family over soon for a shared meal. The assistance the Lisa received is made possible by a grant from the Greater Houston Community Foundation.

Lisa is not alone in her journey. Thousands of Houstonians are still struggling to get back on their feet, doing what they can with the available resources, touched by the generosity of others, frustrated by paperwork and still processing the traumatic experience that can be felt even when not seen.

Since Hurricane Harvey, Houston Furniture Bank has provided furniture assistance to over 3,500 families of survivors. 800 families have received assistance in 2019 alone. These efforts have been made possible through grants provided by the Greater Houston Community Foundation, the American Red Cross, the Meadows Foundation and the George and Fay Young Foundation. Furniture relief for Hurricane Harvey Survivors is ongoing in partnership with Endeavors and Disaster and Humanitarian Services.

If you have been affected by Hurricane Harvey and are in need of assistance, you can contact these organizations.

Disaster and Humanitarian Services: 1-800-620-9511

Endeavors: 832-680-1755.   

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