With current estimates that 100,000 of Katrina's refugees are with us in Houston now, with some 15,000 at the Astrodome alone, I'll have to say that one more time I'm in awe of this city's generosity and efficiency. I have to wonder how this compares with other large-scale refugee relocation efforts in our nation's history, and how close Houston 2005 comes to topping the list for sheer vastness.
There are too many heroes to count or name; I don't know of anybody who hasn't contributed money, material, and/or time. Still, here are a few that especially caught my eye:
Local TV Stations
Various local TV stations have run fundraisers, blood drives, food drives, and campaigns and databases to match refugees with employers, housing, and other family members. The fund-raiser which I mentioned on the blog in my previous post generated $6.3 million dollars from Houston viewers and corporations that day, and people continue to contribute.
500 Midnight Volunteers
This morning at 1:00am, the call went out that the Astrodome was full and we would also need to prepare Reliant Stadium to receive refugees, volunteers please report immediately. In how many other cities would a call at 1:00am have generated 500 volunteers before daybreak?
Houston Independent School District
Archdiocese of Houston-Galveston
Houston Independent School District is expecting to enroll as many as 8,000 new students in this next week. They have waived normal requirements for transcripts, vaccination records and so forth, and are enrolling refugees provided only that they show up. Some refugee children are already in classes. The Houston-Galveston Archdiocese has similarly agreed to enroll refugees without much of the normal paperwork filed; given the numbers of Roman Catholic schools in New Orleans whose students are now in Houston, this will be a much-needed help.
Papa John's Pizza
Many restaurants are donating food. Papa John's Pizza has also pledged 150 jobs (largely created by feeding the refugees) to the refugees themselves.
Best Website for On-the-ground Houston Efforts
Rice University has information of the kind I look for, generally more useful for activist purposes than the news stations' websites.
Bill White, Mayor of Houston
Rick Perry, Governor of Texas
These two have done a top-notch job of lining up resources, smoothing out administrative hassles, cutting hotel taxes, and in general assisting however possible.
Free Activities for Refugees
There are many, many places around town offering free admission to anyone showing a valid driver's license from Louisiana, Mississippi, or Alabama. Of these, Houston Museum of Natural Science is my personal favorite.
Many Area Churches
Many churches have offered up their facilities for use as Red Cross shelters; a large percentage of Red Cross shelters are in churches. As Houstonians will remember after the incredible flooding in Houston in 2001, the largest shelter was not an official shelter at all, but the church of Joel Osteen, which was filled with thousands of refugees from that storm.
Nods are also due to the cities of Dallas and San Antonio, each expecting an additional 25,000 refugees, and to the city of Baton Rouge, which has done Louisiana proud.
For Anyone Interested in Logistics
The Astrodome has been assigned its own ZIP code so that residents may begin receiving mail. For today, New Orleans mail was rerouted to Houston by default, and some people have already received much-needed social security checks.