Wharton has been subjected to four recent floods: The Texas Memorial Day Flood in 2015, The Tax and Memorial Day Floods in 2016 and the flooding following Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
The Wharton County Recovery Team (WCRT) a 501(C)(3) non-profit, was established following flood number three, Memorial Day 2016. Recognizing the need for a recovery organization, concerned citizens in the community came together in the summer and fall of 2016 to form an organization to assist low-income persons, whether uninsured or underinsured, recover from natural or man-made disasters. With a steering committee, mission, bylaws and policies established, the WCRT deposited its first donation in February 2017.
The WCRT created community partnerships and sought funding to assist in recovery from 2016 while setting procedures and goals in the event of another disaster. The goal of the WCRT was recorded: to take an active role in coordinating boots-on-the-ground in every step of the disaster response process: managing the chaos of the flood of volunteers and donations in the immediate wake of a crisis, coordinating rebuilding efforts as our community attempts to return to a state of normalcy, and helping to develop new affordable housing, and aid in mitigation and disaster preparedness efforts to help lessen the impact of the next natural disaster. The MISSION of the WCRT was established: to assist in identifying disaster caused recovery needs and to coordinate access to resources that would provide relief.
As the WCRT was finally getting her “sea legs” Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas creating a flooding event of mammoth proportion. On August 31, 2017, the Colorado river in the City of Wharton crested at over fifty feet, eleven feet above flood level, breaking a 104-year record for flooding in the county. FEMA estimated almost one-third, 4,200, Wharton County homes were damaged during the flood; 3,000 with minor damage and 1,200 with major damage.
Harvey was a game-changer for the WCRT. The magnitude and impact of Harvey, coupled with the realization that recovery would be a three to five-year project, led the WCRT to ramp-up efforts to provide long-haul survivor services. The Executive Committee of the WCRT began outreach for community, state and national funding partners and resources to aid in long-term recovery.
By March 2018, funding was secured for one year to build capacity and staffing for the organization to begin Disaster Case Management. The WCRT partnered with “World Renew” to conduct needs assessments for survivors, a project which resulted in 481 survivors signing up for assistance. Two Disaster Case Managers were brought on staff in April to begin the immense task of reaching out to survivors still in need who lacked adequate resources for recovery. The Disaster Case Managers (DCMs) were commissioned to connect survivors to available resources while offering spiritual and emotional support without discrimination.
Local fundraising efforts and grant awards built the treasury to enable the WCRT to provide funding for unmet needs of disaster survivors. The WCRT organized an Unmet Needs Roundtable bringing in organizations to assist in funding the needs of survivors who have exhausted all other means for recovery. Resources for recovery and rebuilding are strained because of the extent of the county disaster. Since the Spring of 2018, the WCRT has held 35 Unmet Needs Roundtables resulting in $600,00 in assistance being awarded to 167 families. The Unmet Needs Roundtable is held bi-weekly. Disaster Case Managers from WCRT and other case management organizations, St. Vincent DePaul and BCFS, also present cases at the WCRT Unmet Needs Roundtable. Approximately 300 families are still in case management in Wharton County.
Grant funding for capacity building enabled the WCRT to bring in an Administrator and Construction Manager on staff in the summer of 2018, with funding secured into 2020. A VISTA-AmeriCorps Volunteer to serve as Fund Development Coordinator joined the staff in the fall. Grants for Unmet Needs and Construction for Rebuild and Repair were secured to carry the organization through 2019-2020.
The WCRT began a collaboration with the Wharton West End Initiative (WEI) in 2018. As a result of partnership with several key-players, the West End New Home Project was conceived with the goal of building 40 new homes in the West End of Wharton, an area of the city struck by the floods of 2015, 2016 and 2017. Grant funding was awarded for building of the first ten homes, staffing for two additional Disaster Case Managers to handle clients specific to the West-End neighborhood and for a Construction Manager to oversee the new builds in The West-End. Funders for the West End include Rebuild Texas, Samaritan’s Purse, Mennonite Disaster Service and Week of Compassion. Gulf Coast Medical serves as the facilitator for the West End Initiative.
The reconstruction and rehabilitation of homes for families still not recovered from Harvey will be the focus as The Wharton County Recovery Team continues to provide coordinated management of long-term recovery to residents of Wharton County. The West End Initiative began construction of the first 10 homes in January 2019, 22 of the homes will be under construction by the end of September. Mennonite Disaster Service is the partner providing labor for 10 of the homes. The WCRT’s construction and rehab grant from The American Red Cross funding began in January 2019 and funding for construction and repair was just secured from the Center for Disaster Philanthropy. Construction and repair will be the main focus over the next few months.