How to help those affected by Hurricane Harvey

Nonprofits and volunteer groups have deployed across the state of Texas to bridge the gap where authorities are stretched thin.

Miguel Juarez, right, offers free water to passing vehicles Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Rockport, Texas. Juarez and others from the Texas Rio Grande Valley created a make-shift aid station for those in need following Hurricane Harvey. (Credit: AP Photo/Eric Gay)
Miguel Juarez, right, offers free water to passing vehicles Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Rockport, Texas. Juarez and others from the Texas Rio Grande Valley created a make-shift aid station for those in need following Hurricane Harvey. (Credit: AP Photo/Eric Gay)

Storm damage and catastrophic flooding from Hurricane Harvey, which was downgraded to a tropical storm on Saturday, has left thousands displaced throughout parts of Texas. In the wake of the disaster, first responders have been inundated with calls, and in some cities, authorities simply can’t answer them fast enough.

In their absence, nonprofit and volunteer groups have stepped in.

“These types of events are usually few and far between, but they’re increasing in number,” said David Burke, VP of Field Operations for Team Rubicon, a group that deploys veterans to natural disaster areas. “Volunteering is a great way to help emergency officials who may be overwhelmed to bridge gaps.”

Team Rubicon, founded by Marines Jake Wood and William McNulty in 2010, is currently on the ground in Dallas, operating from the group’s National Operations Center and coordinating relief efforts across the state. Around 3,776 regional volunteers are also waiting to be called up and sent out to various locations, where they’ll assist with debris management, home repair, hazard mitigation, and damage assessment. Already, one team has mobilized in North Houston, bringing along a boat to assist those who might be stranded; two more boat teams are expected to deploy to Corpus Christi and Victoria in the next few days.

However, precautionary measures meant to keep both residents and volunteers safe have caused a delay, albeit a brief one.

“We will not launch a coordinated presence in the area until we can ensure our volunteers will not also become victims,” Deputy Director of Field Operations Dennis Clancey said in a statement. “We also want to ensure we do not drain strained emergency response resources. It could be a number of days, as soon as torrential rains subside.”

Speaking with ThinkProgress, Burke added that those who are forced to wait should do their best to stay where they are and not venture out. “The general message is ‘don’t go into standing water,'” he said. “Wait for help.” (Local officials are urging people at home to go to the roof to escape flooding, not to go to the attic, where they may get stuck.)

Officials say that the damage and humanitarian impact from Harvey will only worsen in the coming days, as the rains continue. Aside from the obvious human toll, analytics firm CoreLogic estimates that the disaster could leave behind some $40 billion in damage; insurance analysts at Imperial Capital believe that number could reach as high as $100 billion.

“The breadth and intensity of this rainfall is beyond anything experienced before,” the National Weather Service wrote in a statement. “Catastrophic flooding is now underway and expected to continue for days.”

As the floodwaters rise, several groups, including Team Rubicon, are seeking support for their disaster response efforts, which they hope will bridge the gap while victims wait for official aid.

Team Rubicon

Prepared to go where other relief groups will not, Team Rubicon is shoring up its resources and preparing for a big push in Dallas, Houston, and across the coast.

“First step will be assessing the damage to determine where we can plug in to provide the greatest impact to the homeowners of greatest need, in the most vulnerable communities,” said Clancey.

The organization is looking for additional funding in order to carry out its efforts. Donations can be made online. Supporters can choose a specific amount or give one of Team Rubicon’s suggested amounts: $60, which feeds three volunteers for a day; $100, which provides one volunteer with a domestic deployment kit; $300, which provides airfare or mileage reimbursement to one volunteer; or $500, which “provides a chainsaw kit for a sawyer team.”

Those living in the region who are able to volunteer may also register online. (Veteran status is not required.)

Coalition for the Homeless

In Houston, where thousands have been affected by the rising floodwaters, one group has focused on relief efforts for a frequently overlooked community: the homeless.

Established in 1982, the Coalition for the Homeless in Houston/Harris County coordinates shelter information and updates for displaced individuals and families who might otherwise be unable to leave the region in the event of an emergency. As of Monday, the group had listed a handful of homeless shelters and youth shelters with available beds for those who needed it.

“It’s an all-hands-on-deck situation,” Special Assistant to the Mayor for Homeless Initiatives Marc Eichenbaum told the Houston Chronicle. “Homeless outreach teams have been out for days informing our unsheltered homeless individuals about the weather and offering them immediate placements in shelters.”

You can find resources or donate to the Coalition for the Homeless’ coordination efforts online.

Brandon Spears, left, checks on his wife D'Ona Spears and her dog Missy at a shelter for flood evacuees in the convention center in downtown Houston, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. Spears and her family walked to the shelter after her home was flooded with water from the Buffalo Bayou. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
Brandon Spears, left, checks on his wife D'Ona Spears and her dog Missy at a shelter for flood evacuees in the convention center in downtown Houston, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017. Spears and her family walked to the shelter after her home was flooded with water from the Buffalo Bayou. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

SPCA of Texas

Animals are often the first to be forgotten in the event of a natural disaster. With the help of organizations like the SPCA of Texas, that fate was largely avoided this time around.

“The SPCA of Texas is prepared to intake up to 300 animals affected by Hurricane Harvey if needed, and will evaluate capacity on a daily basis after that,” the organization wrote in a statement on Friday. “This transfer frees up space in animal shelter facilities to make more room for animals displaced by Hurricane Harvey.”

Those looking to help the SPCA in its efforts to rescue animals affected by the flooding can assist in a number of ways. Monetary donations can be made on the group’s site, either one-time or recurring. In-kind donations are also accepted and can be brought to the SPCA of Texas’ Jan Rees-Jones Animal Care Center in Dallas or the SPCA of Texas’ Russell H. Perry Animal Care Center in McKinney. According to its statement, the SPCA’s most-needed items currently include “cat litter, litter boxes, towels, blankets, large wire crates, toys, treats, pet beds, newspaper and gas gift cards.”

All Hands Volunteers

Recommended to Vox’s Dylan Scott by disasterologist Samantha Montano, the nonprofit All Hands Volunteers is working on the ground to assist emergency management officials in San Antonio. Its mission: to “determine where…services are needed most” and launch relief efforts, including safe demolition of structures devastated by the hurricane and establishing community “hubs” like daycare centers and school facilities.

“An alert has been sent out to our extensive network of volunteers, that as soon as access is granted we will move into the affected area, most likely between Corpus Christi and Houston,” the group wrote in a release.

You can donate to All Hands Volunteers online.

Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston. The remnants of Hurricane Harvey sent devastating floods pouring into Houston Sunday as rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground. (Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old son Aiden after rescuing them from their home surrounded by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston. The remnants of Hurricane Harvey sent devastating floods pouring into Houston Sunday as rising water chased thousands of people to rooftops or higher ground. (Credit: AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Greater Houston Community Foundation

Billed as a middle man connecting donors with a plethora of worthy nonprofits, the Greater Houston Community Foundation (GHCF) is currently working with the city of Houston to assist those impacted by Harvey.

“After receiving an overwhelming number of inquiries from citizens and companies who want to help, Mayor Sylvester Turner has established the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund that will accept tax deductible flood relief donations for victims that have been affected by the recent floods,” the group stated. All funds will be housed at the GHCF and disbursed wherever necessary.

Give online here. (Minimum donation amount of $10.)

Food banks

A number of food banks across the state are accepting donations for those displaced by the storm:

  • The San Antonio food bank recently held a donation drive and assembled disaster assistance boxes for anyone who needs one. Donate online ($1 is enough for seven meals).
  • The Central Texas Food Bank is collecting donations on its website, in order to respond to the growing needs of the community and assemble disaster assistance boxes as well. Ten dollars provides as many as 40 meals.
  • The Houston Food Bank isaccepting donations online, despite having to close it’s headquarters due to flooding. One dollar provides three meals.
  • The Corpus Christi Food Bank serves 11 counties in South Texas. Donate online here.
  • The Food Bank of the Golden Crescent, based in Victoria, serves 11 counties and is accepting donations online.
  • Though the Brazos Valley Food Bank was forced to close on Monday “to ensure the safety of [its] staff and volunteers,” those looking to support the organization—which serves the Bryan, Texas region—can still give online. “When we know more, we will let you know what food, monetary and volunteer needs we may have,” the organization wrote in a Facebook post on Sunday.