California-Nevada Conference Chaplain in Texas following Hurricane Harvey

September 14, 2017

The call came from the American Red Cross for female chaplains to come to Texas to provide support in shelters following Hurricane Harvey.  Last week, the Rev. Toni Hartman (3rd from left), a chaplain and clergyperson in the California-Nevada Conference answered that call. Here are some of her reflections...

September 10

I have been in the shelter in Dallas. When we first arrived there were 3,600 people. Today they moved 600 back to Beaumont,Texas to a shelter closer to their homes. We have several newborns that ended up in Dallas because the shelter is best equipped with supplies, food, water and electricity. There are currently only a few shelters in Houston. Most of the evacuees were bused to the Dallas area where there are currently 60 shelters. As the areas of Port Arthur, Beaumont and surrounding areas are deemed safe, they are moving people to shelters being established now closer to their homes. The sad thing is that these shelters will be in areas with limited or no water, no electricity, limited food.
 
Most of the folks from Port Arthur and Beaumont (east of Houston) are low income, or fixed income families. There are many fixed income and low rent apartments that are occupied by older adults who have no place to return to. Some in the shelter are refusing to leave. There is a large presence of law enforcement and national guard in the shelter, but there has been very few issues that require law enforcement or national guard intervention.
 
The shelter is set up in the parking lot structure of the convention center. They have not been allowed to use the actual convention center. It is very cold but there are plenty of blankets and warm clothes available. The Salvation Army is preparing three meals a day with snacks available throughout the day.
It's like a little city in the lower level of the parking lot with a library, stations where there are movies for all ages on large screen tv's, legal aid reps, insurance companies, a full medical center, a chapel, reading corners for kids, pre-school and day care.

It's an amazing and humbling experience for all of us doing spiritual care.

September 11

Visiting neighboring shelters today in Fort Worth, a small all male shelter of about thirty men, and two family shelters. The are all in high school gymnasiums with access to the locker rooms.
 
Back at the mega shelter in Dallas, it is much quieter today. They came to pick up the children's for school around 7:30 a.m. and the kids will not be returned to the shelter in some cases until 5 p.m. Yesterday we met twins. we're having a birthday party tomorrow with cupcakes, balloons, candles and the whole works. Their mom cried when we offered.
 
One of the other chaplains and I have connected and spent quite a bit of time with a young dad who has a two month old. His girlfriend drowned. The baby is absolutely beautiful. We're filling in as grandmas.
 
The shelter is emptying quickly. HUD and Red Cross are collaborating to find housing for those who want to stay in Dallas. Most of the people who want to stay are from Port Arthur Section 8 housing. They lost everything. They have until Thursday to claim all of their belongings, which of course the cannot. So they will lose what little they could have salvaged. Many of them have already had interviews and  have secured jobs in the Dallas area but have no housing.

Lyft and Uber are providing free rides.

September 12

Today has been an emotionally draining day. Anxiety is high for those who do not want to return to their areas.  There has still been no word from HUD and Red Cross regarding potential housing. Many people have interviewed and secured jobs in the Dallas area already, but cannot start work until they get a physical address. Amazon is hiring many of the evacuees staying in Dallas. The shelter is down to 700. A bus arrived tonight from Houston with new evacuees. One of the shelters in Fort Worth (all men) are coming in tomorrow. They have been on a high school gym with locker room accessibility. They are very upset that they are being moved to the mega shelter. We are on call tonight for all of the folks coming in.

September 15

Was sent to the shelter in Fort Worth today 50 miles from Dallas. I was the only chaplain there and will be for the next few days. There are currently 71 people in a high school gymnasium who have chosen to stay in Fort Worth.

Very different from the mega shelter in Dallas. Every person there has met one-on-one with a case worker who is helping them secure housing. There are a few in hospital beds who want to stay and be placed in senior facilities or communities. The atmosphere here is very family oriented and friendly. Because of its size they all became friendly quite quickly after they arrived. This shelter is very comfortable. They have access to the high school locker rooms which have ample restrooms and showers. There are plenty of necessities available as well as organized activities for adults and children alike.
 
The Red Cross chaplains on staff who oversee the volunteer chaplains came yesterday to take over for the former chaplain supervisor who was deployed to Houston last night.
They are locals from Dallas and are far more aware of the resources available in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Apparently several of the churches have offered housing for the evacuees. These local chaplains on staff are working around the clock connecting with the pastors and churches who have offered long- term housing for the people who have chosen to stay in the Dallas/Fort Worth areas.
 
We have had three births in the past week with two anticipated this coming week. I am so humbled by the resilience and faith in God that many of these people display!