On August 25, 2017, Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Rockport, Texas, with winds up to 130 miles per hour, and then stalled over Houston for five days dumping a record-breaking 50 inches of rain (or 27 trillion gallons of water). The historic storm resulted in tens of thousands of homes being seriously damaged or outright destroyed. Approximately 80,000 homes and 500,000 vehicles were damaged or ruined. More than 80 people died, the majority from flood-related drowning.
After the rain stopped, environmental and public health concerns emerged from the flooding, pollution, damp structures, and standing water. While short-term FEMA relief for debris removal and certain house repairs reached many, longer-term disaster relief funds from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for rebuilding and repairing severely damaged homes could take up to 2-3 years. As of November 2017, over 50,000 people were still living in hotel rooms. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Hurricane Harvey did an estimated $125 billion in damage, second only to Hurricane Katrina.
Poverty and lack of insurance coupled with fear and mistrust of immigration authorities and government made undocumented populations one of the most vulnerable groups, creating an urgent need and opportunity for help from independent sources. Pollution, environmental damage, and health problems such as respiratory illnesses from mold in damp living conditions all compound pre-disaster inequities that have pushed poor and minority communities into lower-quality, higher-risk living conditions to begin with, undermining people’s ability to recover in the following months and years.
In response, the Unitarian Universalist Association and UUSC issued a joint appeal to provide emergency relief to the affected communities in Texas, which raised nearly $500,000. UUSC directed the portion of funds we received to grassroots organizations serving the most vulnerable communities—namely, immigrants, the disabled, and people of color in resource-poor communities.