Central Texas Interfaith Strategy Team leader Carlota Garcia of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic, and her mother Rocio, are featured in this National Catholic Reporter "Earthbeat" article on an environmental justice impact of the storm in Austin.
"Downtown, west side, it was lit up like a Christmas tree," García said. "That night, we looked out the window and everything was dark in our (Eastside) neighborhood, and then [we could see] all the lights, beautiful on the skyscrapers just there on the other side of the freeway."
"Through her church, Garcia also volunteers as a strategy team leader with Central Texas Interfaith, a local affiliate of the Industrial Areas Foundation that has been doing relief and advocacy work during and after the storm."
[Photo Credit: Isabelle Baldwin, National Catholic Reporter]
Texas Storm Left Death, Devastation in Vulnerable Communities, National Catholic Report - Earthbeat [pdf]
Even during the Texas winter storm blackout, CTI leaders swung into action to support low-income families cut off from access to heat, potable water and food. Not only did they deliver direct assistance from their own pantries (and eventually much more in collaboration with the County of Travis) they participated in a Texas IAF press conference calling for structural reforms to the statewide power grid. In Waco, CTI furthermore helped support a local congregation that opened their doors to vulnerable residents needing warmth.
Profiled in each of the stories below are people and communities Central Texas Interfaith introduced to Washington Post reporter Arelis R. Hernández.
[At Pecan Park Mobile Homes] on the eastern edge of Austin, Kamel is struggling to plan out the next few weeks for his family. Business had already been slow for his pressure-washing company because of the pandemic, but the freeze has now damaged the equipment.
“We are not able to use anything. So we have like a zero income for now,” said Kamel, who must pay rent by the first week of March to avoid $75 daily late fees. “I’m nervous. I’m sure we are not going to be able to pay on time.”
Days earlier, he nearly lost his three children to carbon monoxide poisoning after they used a charcoal stove to warm their mobile home. He said he felt like a prisoner listening to his children cry from the painful cold during their five days without power. Fear tore through Kamel and his wife after their son began vomiting and they rushed to the hospital.
The hardship reminded Kamel of his own childhood in Iraq, but he said he felt less prepared than his parents, who were accustomed to surviving. The 41-year-old has endured much in his life, but he did not expect this in Texas. The power and weather crises are over, but the consequences for his family will reverberate for weeks.
Kamel applied for individual assistance from FEMA after learning through his kids’ school about the help. Organizers from Central Texas Interfaith have also helped his family with immediate needs, such as food and water.
“We’ve been through similar tough times, but this time it’s different because we have kids,” Kamel said of himself and his wife. “I’m not sure what’s going to happen like next week or like 10 days from here or a month from here, you know?”
[Photo Credit: Sergio Flores, Washington Post]
Help On Ice: St. Alban's Serves as Warming Center, Act Locally Waco
While we desperately need immediate relief, we must also seek long-term systemic change.
As faith leaders, we have a responsibility to cry out for the vulnerable and seek the common good, and this means the reform of a utility system that has served as a means for profit, putting profit before people.
Last week, The Network of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations with interfaith leaders from across the state held a press conference, urging the governor and legislature to take responsibility and put people before profits. It is time to direct recovery resources and restructure utility oversight to protect all, especially the poorer residents already on the edge because of the pandemic.
Central Texas Interfaith & Texas IAF Declare State Power Failure an 'Act of Sheer Negligence' and Demand Accountability from Elected Officials
While state officials announced later in the day that power had stabilized and forced shutoffs were no longer needed, more than 300,000 households remained without power....Texas was especially hard hit because most of its power grid is isolated from the interconnected networks serving the eastern and western parts of the U.S. That made it difficult to import energy from other states when frozen pipes shut down generating station.
The failure of Texas' electric grid led faith leaders across the state on Thursday to call out Gov. Greg Abbott for a lack of leadership and preparation. They urged him to request assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and dip into the state's $10 billion "rainy-day" fund to help Texans cover expensive home repairs and energy bills.
They also called on state leaders to act on a 2012 plan to modernize and weatherize the electric grid....
"We are calling for Gov. Abbott to first take responsibility for this gross negligence and stop finger-pointing. This is a gross act of negligence that has caused harm to the whole state of Texas, and it's time to put people over profits," the Rev. John Ogletree of the First Metropolitan Church of Houston said at a virtual press conference Thursday. The event was organized by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, a nonpartisan coalition of 10 mostly faith-based organizations statewide that represents more than 1 million people....
"The storm may have been an act of nature, but the devastation of the electrical grid shutdown is an act of sheer negligence," Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Dallas Diocese added in a statement.
Kelly and other faith leaders who spoke during the press conference and with EarthBeat described the struggles facing their state's people because of the freeze: Temperatures in homes hovering at 30 degrees. Elderly people unable to use dialysis machines. A 76-year-old woman sleeping in her car for warmth. Churches that would typically offer shelter could not because they too lacked power and water...
Texas Faith Leaders Call Out 'Sheer Negligence' Behind Power Outages, National Catholic Reporter
Press Conference Footage, Facebook Live
[en español abajo]
Travis County Emergency authorities have now opened up three more shelters for anyone in need. They are looking to open up more if they can find more volunteers (see info on volunteering below). Below are the three shelters that are now open for all individuals or families needing shelter. Shelters will remain open 24/7 and will continue to operate for as long as there is a need. Please be careful on the roads - and drive slowly.
If you choose to go to a warming center/shelter, bring blankets and food with you if possible:
- Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road (Central Austin)
- Mendez Middle School, 5106 Village Square Drive (Southeast Austin)
- Northeast (formerly Reagan) High School, 7104 Berkman Drive (Northeast Austin)
If you need a ride to one of these shelters you can contact Austin Disaster Relief Network at 512-825-8211 or 211.
Also here are emergency numbers to share widely:
- Shelter Information: 512-305-4233
- Emergency Food: 211
- Medical Emergency: 911
The Austin Disaster Relief Network is in need of volunteers so they can open more shelters. Volunteers will assist in greeting/checking in people who arrive. AISD is willing to open more facilities but they don’t have the people-power. The volunteers do not need to be previously trained. Please call ADRN at 512-825-8211 to volunteer.
Please call one of the CTI Organizers if you have any questions:
- Doug Greco - 512-484-0590 (Travis and Williamson Co)
- Monique Vasquez - 520-248-8853 (Travis and Bastrop Co)
- Catherine Wicker - 512-771-9691 (Hays Co)
- Liz Ligawa - 254-292-8484 Waco and College Station
Las autoridades de emergencia del condado de Travis han abierto tres refugios más para cualquier persona que lo necesite. Quieren abrirse más pero necesitan encontrar más voluntarios (consulte la información sobre voluntariado a continuación). Hay tres refugios que ahora están abiertos para todas las personas o familias que necesitan refugio. Los refugios permanecerán abiertos las 24 horas del día, los 7 días de la semana y seguirán funcionando durante el tiempo que sea necesario. Tenga cuidado en las caminas - y maneje lentamente.
Comparta esta información por favor.
- Palmer Events Center, 900 Barton Springs Road (el centro de Austin)
- Mendez Middle School, 5106 Village Square Drive (sureste de Austin)
- Escuela secundaria Northeast (Reagan), 7104 Berkman Drive (noreste de Austin)
Si elige ir a un centro de calentamiento/refugio, lleve con usted cobijas y comida si es posible.
Si necesita que lo lleven a uno de estos refugios, puede comunicarse con Austin Disaster Relief Network al 512-825-8211 o 211.
También aquí hay números de emergencia para compartir ampliamente.
- Información de refugios: 512-305-4233
- Comida de emergencia: 211
- Emergencia médica: 911
Austin Disaster Relief Network necesita voluntarios para abrir más refugios. Los voluntarios ayudarán a saludar / registrar a las personas que lleguen. AISD quisiera abrir más ubicaciones, pero no tienen suficiente gente para hacerlo ahorita. Los voluntarios no necesitan formación previa. Por favor llame a ADRN al 512-825-8211 para ser voluntario.
Y llame a uno de los organizadores de CTI si tiene alguna pregunta:
- Doug Greco - 512-484-0590 (Travis and condado de Williamson)
- Monique Vasquez - 520-248-8853 (Travis and condado de Bastrop)
- Catherine Wicker - 512-771-9691 (condado de Hays)
- Liz Ligawa - 254-292-8484 Waco y College Station
Fr. Paul Skeith from SoCo Episcopal Community and CTI spoke at the Travis County Commissioners Court this week to advocate that any private company receiving public tax subsidies from the county pay living wages, benefits, a career track, and strategy to hire locally. The Court subsequently adopted these and other worker safety measures as part of a package advocated by CTI congregations and member institutions including Workers Defense Project, LIUNA, and Central Texas Building Trades.
On Tuesday the Travis County Commissioners Court held a discussion on “Project Silicon Silver,” widely speculated to be the alias for chipmaking giant Samsung’s development contract. The discussion centered around acceptance of the preliminary application, along with a corresponding $150,000 fee paid out to the county by the developer.
The county is considering providing financial benefits in exchange for Samsung’s adherence to worker protection, wage, compensation, OSHA requirements and more.
Several citizen callers also stressed the need for county stipulations, including a living wage indexed to cost of living, local employee minimums and health insurance benefits for employees.
Father Paul Skeith of SoCo Episcopal Community advocated for all of the above issues, in addition to the opportunity for employees to rise within the company.
Jessica Wolff with Workers Defense Project highlighted the strengths of the development standards, citing the local hiring requirement, construction training requirement and anti-retaliation provisions, and called for the standards set in this policy to become the county norm.
”We recognize this is a great first step and there’s still more work to be done,” Wolff said.
CTI leaders Ruby Roa of SoCo Episcopal and Trenton Henrichson of St. Ignatius Martyr Catholic Church advocated at Austin City Council this week for Austin to maximize affordable housing and public benefits for the city-owned redevelopment project at the former downtown Health South rehabilitation facility.
Councilmembers Tovo and Harper-Madison worked together to unanimously pass measures stipulating, among other community benefits, that "the central use of this tract is to be housing, specifically affordable housing."
[Photo Credit: HealthSouth Building/KXAN]
Bastrop Interfaith / Central Texas Interfaith leader Edie Clark was featured in a KUT story this week on the barriers marginalized communities in Bastrop face in accessing the COVID Vaccine. Ms. Clark cited the digital divide, need for better communication, and mistrust communities like Stony Point feel as a result of anti-immigrant policies of the Bastrop Sheriff.
[Photo Credit: Gabriel C. Perez, KUT]
As Bastrop County Builds Vaccination Hub 'From Scratch,' Groups Focus on Dismantling Barriers, KUT Radio, Austin's NPR Station [pdf]
Central Texas Interfaith & Allies Call on State and Local Governments to Beat December Deadline for Coronavirus Rental Relief
Before the pandemic, Maria Ramirez (in photo above) and her husband made more than enough money to afford their two-bedroom apartment in Dallas. Now, they owe $4,000+ in back rent and late fees. When they applied for local aid, they were denied.
"For four months, millions of these funds have wafted around the corridors of City Hall while each day vulnerable families are threatened with evictions," said Jon Lee, a retired pastor of King of Glory Lutheran Church and leader with Dallas Area Interfaith.
Texas IAF leaders across the state are working with local elected officials to spend down millions in assistance dollars that they leveraged earlier this year. Onerous online application processes and excessive documentation requirements hampered access to available assistance for the most vulnerable. Warned Rev. Michael Floyd of Central Texas Interfaith, "Families who lost employment are racking up months of unpaid rent and as eviction moratoriums end, they will be forced out of their homes."
Texas IAF leaders and allies are also calling on the Governor to draw down available funding for rental assistance for smaller cities. If not spent by the end of the year, unspent dollars will have to be returned to the US Treasury.
Says Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, of TMO, “The CDC order create[d] a welcomed pause in evictions in this area, but it is only a half-measure because all rents and late fees will continue to pile up and be due when the moratorium expires on December 31.”
[Photo Credit: Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News]
Thousands Evicted in Houston Area Before Eviction Moratorium, Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
TMO Call[s] on Leaders to Halt Evictions, Congress to Pass Next Stimulus Bill, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
"Talarico also might have gotten a boost from efforts from Central Texas Interfaith, a network of churches, synagogues and other religious organizations that held its own non-partisan get-out-the-vote campaign.
The group targeted voting precincts with historically low voter turnout and church presence with a phone campaign aimed at individuals the organization identified as low propensity voters. By the end of early voting, they saw marked increases in 16 of the 17 precincts they targeted across the Austin area. Those included Williamson County precincts in Talarico’s district as well as State Rep. John Bucy III’s district. Bucy, D-Austin, also won re-election Tuesday.
Rev. Miles R. Brandon II, of St. Julian of Norwich Episcopal Church in Round Rock, said many of the people they contacted found it refreshing that they were being asked only to vote and weren’t being sold a particular candidate or political party.
“We don’t talk to people about candidates, but we talk to them about issues,” Brandon said. “I think, we don’t get hung up as much because we don’t represent a party or candidate.”
Of the nearly 18,000 people contacted, about 9,500 of them ended up casting a vote by the end of early voting, according to Central Texas Interfaith. Several candidates on the ballot who worked with the network of congregations, including Talarico, Bucy and State Rep. Vikki Goodwin, won their respective races."
Suburban Swing: Once Reliably Red, Williamson Voters Back Both Biden, Cornyn, Austin American Statesman