RAMP TO RECOVERY: TDEM STAFF AND COMMUNITY WORKING TOGETHER
Individual Assistance (IA) Officers work within the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) assisting clients with housing issues. They help residents to meet basic needs so they may return to normalcy as soon as possible. However, state officers find themselves in challenging situations that frequently call upon their creativity and dedication to Texas citizens.
TDEM IA Officers were traveling through Lynn County in July, shortly following Hurricane Alex, to complete standard damage assessments. David Macko, TDEM IA Officer, discovered a disabled veteran, who had been living in a converted carport. The adjacent home was not accessible by wheelchair. Recent flooding had destroyed the resident’s bed, and Macko stated that the carport was no longer safe and sanitary. The resident did not qualify for traditional social services assistance programs because he was overqualified due to veteran benefit income.
Colleen O’Neal, TDEM Regional Liaison Officer, coordinated work with intergovernmental agencies to resolve a problem with no apparent solution. O’Neal said, “It didn’t matter how much he had or didn’t have. He had a need, and he couldn’t live in that situation.”
Macko, an armed forces veteran himself, immediately began to find ways to coordinate resources, although initially it appeared he did not qualify for some programs that might meet his needs. “When I help someone – that is not the issue. If they’re clean, safe and sanitary is what matters,” Macko said.
Macko contacted Albert Barber, TDEM IA Officer, who had established contacts with the Texas Facilities Commission. They investigated whether an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant trailer was available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency surplus stock. “The Facilities Commission drew up two trailers,” Macko said. The Commission agreed to deliver the trailer at no cost, however, challenges remained. “Everything we needed to set it up and to make it habitable needed to be obtained,” Macko added.
Lynn County Judge H.G. Franklin was also involved. Macko explained that Franklin located a mobile home dealer in the area who was able to assist with tying down, blocking and leveling. O’Neal assisted in the process by working with voluntary agencies and local officials. “This man was in need, and there wasn’t any way to really assist him other than the community coming together,” she said.
O’Neal said the local Disabled American Veterans Association donated around $1,000 toward the labor involved. Meanwhile, Abbey Redman, local Emergency Management Coordinator, worked with the Sheriff’s Department to direct traffic while the trailer was delivered to the family. O’Neal said: “Abbey played a critical role in the success of this project. She was the ‘boots on the ground’ for this family, coordinating efforts in person and on the phone.”
With most of the project complete, the family still needed a disability access ramp to enter the trailer, which came at a significant cost. “$1,280 was the price for the ramp, and that was a 48-foot ramp,” O’Neal said. At this point, the Texas Ramp Project stepped up to the plate. The Texas Ramp Project is a nonprofit made up entirely of volunteers dedicated to working with local jurisdictions, social service organizations and hospitals to identify clients who need a ramp. They have built more than 6,500 miles of ramps since 1985. The community worked together at all levels with donations from the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, and the Disabled American Veteran’s Association. “The Boy Scouts provided sweat labor to construct and install the ramp,” Macko explained.
O’Neal and her son were able to join Redman on the project to build the ramp, volunteering for nine hours: “It was a tremendously humbling experience to work with such a dedicated and caring group of individuals in the Texas Ramp Project. We were all able to come together and accomplish our goal. Now he has a safe home that works for him.”
Ruby Dailey, Lead Individual Assistance Officer, added that federal money will not always return the family to normalcy: “That is where our challenge lies. Our job is to keep these families from falling between the cracks – to be able to point them in the right direction to get them on the road to recovery.” TDEM Individual Assistance Officers coordinate housing recovery for Texans statewide by pursuing unconventional means. Dailey summed up her experience this way: “It’s very satisfying to help someone when you have such a success story. IA doesn’t do this for the glory. This is the thanks we get – when we are able to help someone like this.”
Michael Horn, Recovery Outreach Specialist
Front Page Photo: Volunteers work together to complete construction on the 48-foot ramp. Photo courtesy of TDEM Regional Liaison Officer Colleen O’Neal.