TNOYS and our partners Texas Homeless Network, and Texas Homeless Education Office have been hard at work moving the Safety Nets for Students and Families project forward, hosting dozens of training events and awarding over $600,000 in grant funding during the past school year. It is all part of an effort to support schools and community-based organizations in meeting the needs of homeless youth and families displaced by Hurricane Harvey, made possible through funding from the Rebuild Texas Fund.
Two different types of grants have been awarded through the Safety Nets project — large capacity-building grants to organizations in hard-hit communities and up to $5,000 in mini-grants to help school districts meet direct needs of affected students and families. Creative school district staff and other mini-grant recipients have put their funding to many uses — below are a few examples.
One Communities in Schools program in the Beaumont area is using the money to purchase a washing machine and dryer, so that students who have no other way to wash and dry their laundry can have clean clothes. The grant will also cover shoes and bus tokens for these students, among other needs.
Another grantee in Galveston is using the funds primarily for transportation for families that have been displaced from the area after the storm impacted housing options there. “Many of the families are having to live off the island because of limited housing in Galveston. The waiting list for housing is extremely long and families can get housing on the Mainland because additional units are being opened on the Mainland (Texas City and La Marque area),” the grant recipient wrote.
Yet another grant recipient in Beaumont wrote that the funds would help families living in hotels or doubled up situations, stating that “it is the lifeline many of them need to just make it through another day.”
In Santa Fe Independent School District, which had a tragic school shooting compound the challenges the community already faced due to Hurricane Harvey, a school social worker said: “The Safety Nets grant came at a time when families were regaining an appetite to get back in the race to build. The cash vouchers given to them served as an aid for transportation to work, rental assistance, clothes, graduation, uniforms, food, appointment assistance, etc.”
Grants awarded in the Texas City and Corpus Christi areas will primarily provide food to students still experiencing food insecurity more than a year after the storm.
Staff at Victoria Independent School District used some of their mini-grant funding to help two students and their mother secure a three-night hotel stay after a small fire and flooding had left them without electricity in their RV, at a time when temperatures were dipping below freezing. While a short hotel stay may seem like a small thing to some, according to the staff member who facilitated the payment, “it gave this family a moment to breathe that they have not had in a very long time, since Hurricane Harvey started their journey of moving around.” As the mother said, “I can honestly say that you have helped me greatly in changing the sad direction [my girls’] attitudes were starting to go and for that thank you is just not enough.”
Yvonne Rossman, homeless liaison for Victoria ISD, spoke to the lingering impacts of Hurricane Harvey on the area’s schools and community and the importance of the mini-grants: “[Hurricane Harvey caused an extraordinary amount of displacement (homelessness) among our families. … Two years later, our students and families continue to struggle to ‘get back to normal’ due to things they had to do to survive that first year after Hurricane Harvey. We are extremely grateful for the monies that the Safety Nets grant provided for families and students as we remain committed to helping homeless students thrive in our district and community!”
These examples show how losses associated with a natural disaster can have a significant impact on the long-term wellbeing of students and their families and make everyday life difficult and insecure. Well after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in 2017, there are far too many families still suffering from the instability in their lives caused by the storm. But through support and collaboration, solutions are being found.