Thousands left homeless in wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Hurricane relief workers push a boat up a flooded highway.

Texas National Guard / NOAA

Houston, Texas

Residents living in the homeless encampment under House’s U.S. 59 overpass got some good news recently when they received a temporary restraining order preventing the city from enforcing its anti-camping ban.

The Aug. 22 reprieve did not last long.

Within 48 hours, the residents were forced to leave anyway, as Hurricane Harvey slammed into the region. The hurricane killed 70 people and left a path of destruction in its wake, which included at least 13,500 homes.

“The water was up to five to six feet high in that area,” said Dwight Boykins, city councilor of District D in Houston.

Despite the destruction, those living in the encampment are slowly making their way back, Boykins said. The water has since receded and Boykins estimated that about 30 of the original 70 tents that were in the area have returned. The residents living there are currently being represented by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in a suit challenging an amendment the city made to its Code of Ordinances banning the use of tents in public spaces, the center said in a statement.

About a week prior to the hurricane, police visited the encampment to issue citations and order those living there to remove their tents. Maria Foscarinis, executive director of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty, said in a statement that those living in the encampment are “simply trying to survive.”

“When shelters are full, people experiencing homelessness have nowhere else to go,” Foscarinis said. “It’s an added cruelty to arrest them for life-sustaining activities such as sleeping.”

Boykins said that he is committed to helping those living in the encampment regardless of how many return. “We have beds available for people to transition,” Boykins said. “This is not an anti-homeless environment.”Boykins said that the “ultimate goal” of the camping ban is not to make homeless people leave the area but to try and get them help, such as housing solutions and mental health

Boykins said that the “ultimate goal” of the camping ban is not to make homeless people leave the area but to try and get them help, such as housing solutions and mental health treatment, while acknowledging the situation is complicated.

The city councilor categorized people on the street in Houston as either those who have fallen on hard times, people with mental illnesses, or con artists. “We want to help as many homeless people that want help,” Boykins said. “But these con artists, I don’t have time for [them].”

Adam Sennott, Street Sense


Washington, D.C.

Several organizations in the D.C. area have been sending food, supplies and volunteer assistance to help those affected by natural disasters in the southeast U.S. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have caused major destruction across the region as the flooding has damaged homes, vehicles, and forced many towns to evacuate.

The American Red Cross in the National Capital Region has been deploying volunteers and vehicles to the region to assist with aid and relief. The branch sent 97 volunteers and six emergency response vehicles so far, some deployed as early as August. The teams are usually gone for two weeks at a time. “These teams will help with mass care and sheltering, health services, mental health services and coordinating response agencies,” said Nathan DeVault, director of communications for the organization, in an email to Street Sense.

The Washington Nationals are also running a food and item drive at Nationals Park, collecting non-perishable foods as well as cleaning and hygiene items. The collection was 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily until Sept 17. Donations will be accepted at the Center Field and Home Plate entrances during game times. On other days, donations will be accepted on the First Street side of Nationals Park.

Walmart is also contributing to efforts by matching customer donations at double. Customers can contribute by donating at Walmart registers or by texting SUPPORT to 90999, which triggers a 10 dollar donation. The company will match donations up to $30 million in cash or donated needed product value. Donations will benefit the American Red Cross.

Lilah Burke, Street Sense


Nashville, Tennessee

A Facebook page launched by a Nashville woman is connecting Floridian evacuees with open homes in the middle of Tennessee.

Brittany Baugh started the Facebook page “Florida to Nashville Hurricane Evacuees” to help place families forced out of Florida during Hurricane Irma.

“I came up with the idea when I saw my friends in Orlando considering evacuating, and my friends in Nashville offering rooms to their respective networks,” Baugh, a Florida native, said. “The people who joined have really made it a success.”

The cover photo for the page features the sign found as you enter the state: “Tennessee Welcomes You.”

Baugh estimates 10 placements have been facilitated through the page.

One poster on the page, Danielle Fleming, offered the services of her cleaning company to families that had taken in evacuees. “You guys are awesome, and I feel I can give back in some type of way,” she wrote.

Tennesseans have also posted offering to make food, tow vehicles, and donate clothing.

“I am very proud of all of Tennessee and my Nashville neighbors,” Baugh said.

People are also using the page to connect abandoned animals with homes.

Amelia Ferrell Knisely, The Contributor


You may also be interested in Robert Warren’s poem, “The Hurricane Sees.”

Issues |Encampments|Environment|Housing|Weather

Region |Washington DC

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