HOUSTON — The floodwaters around Homestead Road, a historically black Houston area, were high enough during Hurricane Harvey that people had to evacuate to the second floor or even to the roof of their apartment complexes. Yet days after the waters receded, neighbors in the region say they still haven’t seen anybody — from FEMA, the Red Cross, or any other aid agency — come by to help out.
That is, they hadn’t seen anybody until volunteers from Free Indeed Church International showed up to deliver meals of hot barbecue.
Free Indeed Church has rapidly created a shelter, donation center, and food delivery service to serve the people who live around Houston’s Homestead Road. It is one of very few shelters in the area, whose median household income totalled just $27,000 in a 2012 city assessment and which church leaders say has long gone underserved or even ignored by city officials.
“You feel a lot better if you’re devastated but you’re closer than home, than being in a convention center with 8,500 people,” explained Pastor Johnny Gentry. The church, which is currently set up to take in 250 people for 60 days, both used its own money and relied on private donations to set up its disaster relief services.
“One of the things we decided when we first started the shelter, we’re not going to call them evacuees, we’re not going to call them refugees, we’re not going to call them misplaced. They are our guests,” added Pastor Jenice Gentry, who grew up in the area and who is married to Johnny Gentry. “What our words to them were, ‘We want you guys to be treated as if you paid to be here.’ So that’s the level of hospitality that we want to arrive at.”
A Houston Office of Emergency spokesperson told VICE News that FEMA workers were being dispatched Sunday to register people in the Houston Gardens area for disaster relief from the government. The Red Cross did not immediately return VICE News’ request for comment.