As we approach the anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, Tahirih’s work to address the impact of Hurricane Harvey continues. Our efforts in 2018 include:
Ensuring Access to Legal and Social Services
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, Tahirih contacted all of its current clients to make sure they were safe and determine what additional support was needed. We have consistently observed a similar average aligned with the general population of individuals impacted – about 15%-20% of clients, which is about 282 individuals and their family members. Many of these individuals had unique needs, for example, their house was flooded, they lost their only car, or they could not meet rent because they could not get to their place of business. In recent months, we have also assisted clients whose landlords did not address issues creating health risks to apartments. We continue to provide support making referrals, providing social services, and deploying direct financial assistance funds it raised in the aftermath of Harvey.
As new survivors come to Tahirih, we continue to hear about struggles during and post Hurricane Harvey. Recently, Lida* came to Tahirih for assistance with her legal case. Lida is a survivor of domestic violence as well as sexual assault. She is also the mother of a young child. Her spouse abused her both physically and emotionally throughout their relationship, frequently withholding money. After Hurricane Harvey, when she was unable to work, the abuse escalated. Despite being unable to work, he provided her with no money and she used her little savings to compensate for the loss of employment. Violence in their relationship escalated, forcing Lida to leave her abuser but without him and without the job she held before Hurricane Harvey, she has suffered ongoing financial hardship. When we met with her she spoke of the difficulties she has faced and how on a regular basis she must make decisions between buying formula for her young baby or buying personal care items, like menstrual pads, for herself. In addition to providing financial assistance, we have been able to provide case management support including, safety planning, crisis intervention, supportive counseling, educational resources, and housing assistance.
*Name changed to protect client privacy.
Co-leading the Harvey Systems Project
As part of our leadership in the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative (HILSC), Tahirih has co-chaired the Access to Services committee. Since Harvey, this committee has been working on a Harvey Assistance fund plan and has hired staff to further the following goals:
- To manage a contract with January Advisors, a Houston-based data consulting firm that is designing a new program called NeedsHOU, which will be a more transparent way for social service providers and the experiences that undocumented clients have when trying to access various systems;
- To work with local experts to educate and advocate for service providers whose intake procedures create barriers for immigrants; and
- To create a “humanitarian action plan” for HILSC to help immigrant-serving organizations, and particularly immigration legal service providers, be better prepared for future natural disasters and to make recommendations about how the city/county can be more responsive to the needs of undocumented residents during a disaster.
To further these goals, Tahirih has continued to actively participate in working group meetings and has additionally supported the committee in facilitating interviews with 32 directors, managers and service providers, participating as a service provider in a focus groups to share the immigrant experience during Hurricane Harvey, and providing feedback on data systems. Next month, Tahirih will be hosting and seeking clients to participate in a client-centered focus group in with the goal of better understanding the experiences of immigrants during Hurricane Harvey.
Community Mobilization. Tahirih, in collaboration with the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative and a law firm in Pennsylvania, led efforts to develop a Houston-wide evaluation of all the federal, state and local disaster-relief programs available to those impacted by Harvey, and how those programs can be accessed by immigrants. Harvey brought to light additional, legal barriers preventing immigrants from seeking access to key assistance programs, and the critical need to remove those barriers to enable the assistance to be utilized. For example, there is a program called SNAP that provides disaster aid, and undocumented immigrants are eligible to participate. However, applicants need to enter a Social Security Number in order to apply, and many do not have a Social Security Number. As part of the evaluation, the SNAP program is identified as a source of support, along with critical instructions about how to enter a string of zeros in place of a Social Security Number. This tool, which was completed at the end of 2017, will directly inform the Harvey Systems Project, and the ongoing work of Tahirih and the community.
Civil Liberties Advocacy. Tahirih continues working with the Department of Homeland Security to address grievances about monitoring of disaster aid efforts by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While immigrants were given assurances that enforcement efforts would not be exercised against those seeking assistance during and after Hurricane Harvey, Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were seen patrolling shelters and other relief sites. Even more troubling, when Tahirih set up immigration and domestic violence assistance tables in the Convention Center shelter themselves, five different individuals supporting immigrants observed and photographed ICE agents patrolling the tables inside the shelters. Tahirih has organized three conference calls with Homeland Security to share this information with the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties department, and that team is coming to Houston to discuss and evaluate its response to the disaster relief efforts.