For the last five days Houston has been experiencing a winter storm, NACC Disaster Services opened its doors as a storm shelter.
Amidst the flurries and icy roads, the experience was a fly by the seat of your pants, moment-to-moment exercise for the staff tending to the needs of those bussed in from the George R. Brown Convention Center, Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital, and Bush Intercontinental Airport. Some needed oxygen tanks or bed pans, others needed food and water or a charging station, but one thing they all needed was shelter from the wrath of the bitter cold conditions.
Larry Carroll started walking from his tent on Main Street and Post Oak toward the George R. Brown Convention Center when the snow started falling.
“They put me on a bus and took me here. I came across a few things I could use like blankets and a couple of jackets and food. What we can get we appreciate,” he said.
Carroll, who works for Waste Management, got his former outfit from a trash bin.
“It’s been nice. It’s been a step along the way,” he said of his experience at NACC headquarters.
Working closely with the homeless has been a mainstay of the organization since its inception in 1992. However, working with the needy versus living alongside the needy gave the staff a new perspective on the harsh reality of life with nowhere to call home.
The shelter opened on Sunday night, February 14, when temperatures hit record lows and millions of Houstonians found themselves without power and no clarity as to how long it would take to get the power turned back on. For some the outages lasted for hours, and for others days.
Transportation was affected too, with officials advising against any kind of travel. Those stranded at the airport sought shelter while attempting to book hotel rooms that were already full.
NACC wasn’t the only organization affected by the winter storm. Hospitals lost power and access to clean water due to burst pipes, including the Texas Children’s Hospital. NACC provided fresh water for surgery units at the children’s hospital through Crane Worldwide Logistics. First responders at the Houston Police Department enjoyed hot meals prepared by NACC staff and volunteers. Officers were stationed at NACC headquarters throughout the duration of its use as a shelter.
Sargent Bryan Garrison of the Houston Police Department said the officers are stationed all over the city to provide a sense of security.
“With an event like this you expect there is going to be problems with looting, which has not started, at least not to the depth that it did after Harvey,” said Garrison.
Garrison said officers are also stationed at the George R. Brown Convention Center and Lakewood Church, both of which were set up as public shelters.
“With this disaster stuff, some of the things we do include setting up physical barricades where you don’t want large groups of people to go, and ensuring they don’t have a weapon or alcohol or other substances,” said Garrison.
“We’ve run shelters before, it’s part of disaster relief,” said NACC Director Angelica Ortega.
“This is part of what our mission is,” said NACC Director Angelica Ortega. “We’ve run shelters before. Shelters are one aspect of disaster relief.”
NACC has seen over 100 people displaced by the storm and expects to continue to see more as the need arises.
“Because our mission statement is helping to rebuild communities, we opened our doors and shared our resources with them, like the food, water, blankets, somewhere to sleep, clothes, and just someone to talk to. The personal aspect of it,” said Ortega.
Ortega said some of the people who have come here who are homeless have been through a lot in their lives.
“It’s almost like a wall for them. You want to have a conversation with them but there’s a trust barrier, and so you want to make them feel comfortable as much as possible.”
Managing a shelter is much busier than the day-to-day operations of NACC’s typical disaster relief services, according to Ortega, from what needs to be done in the morning to when everyone goes to bed at night and even beyond.