Monday, October 03, 2005

Brian B, Red Cross shelter volunteer

Brian B is from Oregon, and volunteered at a Red Cross shelter in a church in Houston. He blogged about the experience, summing up with an "IntroRetrospection":
Quite frankly, on an organizational level, the efforts (even those of myself and my fellow volunteers) left something to be desired. It's not that we didn't want to help, and it's not that we didn't have help to offer, but the actual process of delivering that help was chaotic. The problem was that there was no central clearing house of information that could direct an individual to every source of asssistance available to them. My last day at the shelter was the FIRST day it was visited by a FEMA official. It was Wednesday or Thursday of LAST WEEK when a representative of the AFL-CIO showed up to let us know they were assisting with job placement for displaced union members. On Thursday, I helped one gentleman fill out his LA state unemployment form, when a question on it caused a lightbulb to go on over my head. I ran a Google search, and became the first volunteer at the shelter who knew that the VA is also providing job assistance, for displaced veterans. Texas HUD, god bless them, is willing to foot the bill for rent for qualified applicants (and almost all Katrina evacuees qualify), but it takes 2 weeks to process an application, and we didn't know this until Thursday -- less than a week before people have to be out of the shelter. Many national and international corporations offered relocation and assistance to their employees, but unless those employees think to look that info up, it would have been very difficult for their companies to find them.

I started thinking that what's needed is a database -- run either by an organization like the Red Cross, or by FEMA, that lists all of the different private, local, state, and federal agencies that provide assistance, what kind of assistance they provide, to whom they offer it, and how one requests it. This database should be available to frontline relief workers, perhaps through FEMA and/or a select number of private agencies (RC for example). The workers should have a computer questionnaire they can use to screen each victim -- are you a veteran? A union member? Who was your employer? Did you rent or own your home? Did you have homeowners insurance? etc. etc., and based on the answers given, the database is searched and all relevant assistance for that victim is brought up.

One other thought on the relief efforts: I have heard a few people, both bloggers and non-bloggers, make comments to the effect that the relief efforts are in vain because it will just turn the evacuees (who are all single mothers, according to these same comments) into welfare recipients.

Kiss my white volunteer ass.

I've been around these people for a week. And while it's possible that my shelter was non-representative, I can tell you that most of the evacuees *I* encountered were families, and MOST of them wanted jobs as much as they wanted immediate aid. And many of them already had jobs by the time I showed up.


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