For the majority of his life, Reverend James Caldwell has lived in Houston, Texas, where he experienced tropical storms and hurricanes. Caldwell mentions Hurricane Harvey did not discriminate when causing chaos, revealing inequalities in services, and the resources certain areas could access. Both before and after Harvey, Caldwell discusses inequality, activism, and differing socioeconomic opportunities and experiences within the Houston area. Caldwell was stranded at a friend’s house for two days due to the storm. IHe reveals the event placed a heavy burden on his heart through witnessing the horrors of the flooding, hearing others’ accounts, and noticing the continued aftereffects. Caldwell also relayed his experience with the Red Cross and how they helped post-hurricane. Through his own nonprofit organization, Coalition of Community Organizations, Caldwell collected funds to pay for a warehouse that held donations for those affected by Harvey. Part of helping others post-Harvey included a phone bank where people offered their cell phones to those wishing to contact friends or family members. Caldwell offers accounts of other individuals affected by the hurricane, especially those in the Kashmere Garden/Fifth Ward area. The details the role of private organizations and governmental organizations and also focuses on the importance of activism, self-sufficiency, and racial equality to remove unfair barriers in the future. The importance of psychological recovery and how hurricanes can damage the psyche as well as property are discussed. Briefly diverging from Harvey, Caldwell mentions Hurricane Katrina before returning to Harvey and the resultant loss of jobs and its impact on local businesses and homelessness. Caldwell wraps up the interview by discussing how the community can work to solve inequalities and prepare for future storms.
Following is the transcript of the Resilient Houston: Documenting Hurricane Harvey interview with the Reverend James Caldwell, Assistant Pastor at the Community House of Prayer in Houston, Texas. The interview was conducted by Tim Carlson on April 11, 2019, at Lyons Unity Missionary Baptist Church, 3215 Lyons Avenue in Houston, Texas. This interview was conducted for the Center for Public History at the University of Houston.
Background Information [0:00:12]
Tim Carlson: Today is April 11, 2019. My name is Tim Carlson, and we are conducting this interview for the Center of Public History at The University of Houston with the Reverend James Caldwell who is an assistant pastor at Community House of Prayer. Would you mind sharing with me your birthday?
James Caldwell: I was actually born on August 26, 1953.
Tim Carlson: Okay.
James Caldwell: I was actually born here in the Fifth Ward at the hospital that is not far away, used to be a hospital. It’s probably the, we don’t know what’s going to happen at the moment. We’re still trying to address that. But is was St. Elizabeth Hospital. It was one of the few hospitals in the city at the time when I was born where if you were black you had to go in order to be born.
Tim Carlson: And you, you stated you were born here. Have you lived your entire life here, or other places?
James Caldwell: The majority of it has been here. I’ve lived in New York. I’ve lived in Colorado. I have lived, I think those are the only two I actually spent any extended period of time in. I love Colorado, love New York, but those are the only two places I’ve actually lived.
Tim Carlson: And was that due to work?
James Caldwell: Yeah. The opportunity was due to work, I took job opportunities in both. One was with the New York Daily News. I became a plant manager up there. This was in the late seventies, early eighties. And the Colorado position was actually as a dispatcher in a local trucking company and I loved it up there but I’m a southern boy, not used to the cold but I think the scenery overcame the cold. Colorado is beautiful.
Experience of Tropical Weather in Houston [0:02:14]
Tim Carlson: So you have a lifelong experience in Houston?
James Caldwell: Yes.
Tim Carlson: You know what the weather patterns are like. You’re used to tropical storms and hurricanes.
James Caldwell: Yes.
Tim Carlson: I obviously, we’re going to get back to Harvey but I would ask what other storms come to mind that you’ve experienced here in Houston, if any?
James Caldwell: The, the one that makes, that I remember the very, very most was Carla. It was called Hurricane Carla and that was in the sixties. I was a kid that time and of course I remember Allison and Rita and Ike and I may be missing one somewhere between there, but of course Harvey, the latest one.
Impact of Hurricane Harvey Specifically [0:02:59]
Tim Carlson: So, my broad question, how did Harvey, how do you view Harvey as different from other storms? Was it worse? Were you here, or, expound on that.
James Caldwell: Harvey basically shut down an entire, I want to say city, but it’s, it was more like the county. The city of Houston dwells within Harris County. They shut down the entire county. I have live through several storms. Some of them been devastating, but the impact that Harvey had on the county and the city itself, I had never seen anything like that. I never thought I would after Allison. Allison was one of those storms that created some heavy flood problems, but the impact. Well, let me say this first of all, Harvey did not discriminate. It did not care. It didn’t care if you were black, white, your nationality, your creed, your color, your gender, your belief system. It did not care. It affected all. The difference being in some areas, some communities are still having difficulty recovering from Harvey as compared to others. We have seniors, we have those that are disabled and those who are, for lack of a better term, financially strapped. There’s an economic difference, income inequality that exists in, in, in Houston and I think Harvey shined a spotlight on that. Harvey also shined a spotlight on the inequity aspect of services and other resources that the city and the county has lacked or has or has been lax in. That’s one of the reasons that why some communities were easily able to recover after Harvey. Here we are almost two years out, a little over a year and a half, and we’re still repairing and rebuilding homes.
Tim Carlson: The impact of Harvey, you brought the inequality issue. Did you ever experience that inequality and inequity in any other storms that you’ve lived through here?
James Caldwell: Yes. You see it, but once you recover, unless you are actually engaged in the process. Unless you actually become proactive or a part of the recovery process, then it’s vague. You know trying to restore and rebuild to, I guess, I hate using the terms, normal or normal quality of life. I’m not sure there is such a thing. To restore a better quality of life, that’s what your focus is on and just when you’re at a point from, financially, financial standpoint. Your primary objective is to put food on the table. Paying the rent. You know making sure the kids are taken care and all these other aspects and, and you will patchwork all of these things around it just to maintain that. And so your opportunities to become engaged and educated and informed about the overall issues, the big picture is somewhat vague because you don’t really have the time. And then there needs to be that entity of those individuals or organizations that will come in and enlighten, you know educate you. Inform you and provide you with the resources or connect you to the resources to be able to recover. That has been the most difficult aspect, and of course there are some political ramifications that were put in place that prevent you from doing certain things. Those small things, you know, homeowners, or former homeowners, you know. In, in, in the black community, as part of the black culture, as it is with the hispanic culture that mom and dad will the home, okay, they don’t necessarily will the home to you. But upon their demise you get the home but it’s not in your name. So when a disaster, this, we faced this multiple times across the city and in our communities. But when the disaster relief comes from F.E.M.A. or any other entity, unless you are actually the homeowner, which the Red Cross and whatever. You’re denied assistance because you’re not the homeowner. Your name is not on the deed itself and then there is a process if you owe back taxes you’re not eligible or, there’s so many factors that add to the recovery aspect of it and the overall impact that Harvey had on the city of Houston and, and, and the underserved minority in low income communities.
Activism in the Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey [0:08:19]
Tim Carlson: So back up a bit with a couple questions, I want to get back to that, but am I hearing you correctly that in previous storms your life was such that you were, in your career, your raising family, whatever it may be, and now you are, with Harvey, you’ve become more active?
James Caldwell: No, I was actually an activist prior to Harvey, an advocate brought to Harvey, but over. We’ve always known here in Houston that there’s a racism element that exists. We’ve known that. We, we’ve known that there has been a separation of resources, of education, information, you know, that is provided, or should be provided to lower end communities of color. And that lack became evident with Harvey. Personally, I already knew it existed and it was a fight for healthcare, immigration, you know housing. All these other entities we were fighting on and we tried to bring that to the attention of those who were quote end quote in power. After the Allisons and all these other storms that occurred. It didn’t seem to have much of an impact. Okay. It did not much of an impact. It was just like screaming from a well. You know, unless I’m above it folks don’t hear my scream, but because Harvey had an overall impact and it affected so many different people. And we haven’t even talked about the environmental impact that it had. And one has to be willing or be able to connect the dots. You know, okay, I don’t have housing but, okay, what about my kids. Can they go to school? Where will they go to school? That’s an academic aspect. What about median incomes living in, say a toxic environment or a toxic area and storm encompassing environmental issues in the water and the air. All the above and I can’t go to work. Who pays the bills? Who puts food on the table? That contributes to homelessness. It contributes to psychological and emotional disparities. It contributes to divorces and ends of relationships and the division of families, but you have to be willing to connect the dots in order to see that it’s just one incident. But you have to be able to, as I said previously, see the big picture to see who really is affected and how deep down the rabbit hole does it actually go and how many tributaries connected to it and because so many. There’s so many you go in trying to address one issue and that’s a housing issue and you discover that so many others, you know criminal justice, infrastructure all of the above and you can help care you can’t do one without seeing the other because they’re all connected.
Personal Experience of Hurricane Harvey [0:11:38]
Tim Carlson: I want to focus for a minute, or for a few minutes, on your personal experience with Harvey and then I’d like to get back the very interesting big picture issues. Basic question. How did you weather the storm? Where were you at that time?
James Caldwell: At the time I wasn’t at home. I got called over to a friend’s house and they were fortunate the house happened to be on a little rise. It may have been about four or five feet high and I think the water come within about two inches of actually coming into their home. So they were one of the fortunate. But we were stranded there for two days. We couldn’t get out. There were boats. I saw the Coast Guard rescue about three or four different people. These were seniors and others who owned oxygen in their homes and things of that nature and there was no accessibility. There was no resources. You know, as I said, pretty much shut down the city. So the city’s plan for disaster, disaster preparedness did not exist. Now that there were volunteers all over to do various things, but what about those that didn’t get gotten to for lack of a better term? And for me personally, you know in seeing that, it put a heavy burden on my heart. It caused me a lot of pain. You know to see the misery and the pain and suffering people were going through. Not necessarily just during the storm. Shortly afterwards but also afterwards there was this fear factor by certain you know seniors and kids and things of that nature the rain would not stop. The water kept coming up all of this. And when you with this, this. It has a toll and an impact. Not much of a swimmer but I do know how to and you know I was prepared to do it. I actually wade into waist deep water. I’m six foot one. So, you know but I was you have to be willing to do something to try to assist in any area that you can. But during Harvey I saw some things that I never want to see in life again. You know there was some experiences that I experienced. With elderly and just with people in general you know the disabled. That will always have a lasting impact with me.
Tim Carlson: So, where were you living when the storm hit?
James Caldwell: I was, actually, as I said, I live now in the Fifth Ward at my current address 2424 Sakowitz but fortunately I was on the second floor so I didn’t have to have to worry about but the lights. There was no lights there and no water, so no food and all that, but I wasn’t there when the storm came.
Tim Carlson: So what happened to your home?
James Caldwell: I lost everything in it. As far as food. There was no light for about 10 days no more like two weeks. So there was no electricity there was no air. Those who had food in their refrigerators and all we lost all of that. There was basically no compensation for that. Not that necessarily that it should be but know when you lose everything if you’re on the edge yes you like to have that compensation. Where I was and I only found out that the lights were out where I actually lived for two weeks once I was able to get home. Ok I wasn’t able to get home for about four days because once the water did subside a little bit there was still other streets that were flooded. But that was traffic everywhere there were stalled out vehicles all to the road so there was basically no thoroughfare to go through and then the wreckers were stalled out as well. So you couldn’t get around. Stores were closed. You know it was, it was horrible.
Tim Carlson: How long were you away from your home until you could get back?
James Caldwell: A total, about five days. Yeah, five days. And it wasn’t like I didn’t make the effort to try to get home. I could not get there.
Tim Carlson: Tell me about the effort to try to get there.
James Caldwell: OK. I tried. I have a vehicle. It just so happens that my vehicle was over it and it happened to be up high in the driveway. It still got waters on the rim then a little bit came inside the vehicle itself. But it was able to start once the waters went down and I tried navigating for two days to get home to actually to get home and I could not. And when I was once I was able to get within a couple of blocks of my home. And this was probably about the third or fourth day. The water was still so high in the streets that I just couldn’t get there and I couldn’t walk because in our community there are ditches that are probably three to four maybe four feet deep. And if you make a wrong step or a misstep there you go. As I said, at my age, I’m not as nimble as I used to be. So. So I wasn’t that eager to try to walk and not know because you couldn’t see sidewalks. You couldn’t see anything because of walking over. But eventually when I did get home I still had a way to about three feet, just under, after five days.
Tim Carlson: After five days?
James Caldwell: After five days.
Experiences Post-Hurricane Harvey [0:17:14]
Tim Carlson: And after you got home were you able to stay there or was the water too high?
James Caldwell: As is I said I lived on the second floor. I wasn’t able to stay there because of there was no air conditioning. You know all my food had spoiled and there was no light no electricity. So, You know, I said there was no electricity for about two weeks. And it hadn’t been on since I think the day actually of the storm. So those who happened to be at the current location where I lived had been without lights for about a week. Now. (unintelligible)
Tim Carlson: So did you have trouble in this time period getting food?
James Caldwell: Yeah. Everybody did.
Tim Carlson: Do you mind telling me about that?
James Caldwell: We would, we had organized to go. There were spots that the Red Cross and other entities were providing within certain time frames during the course of days and other churches and the like where you could go and pick up food. Some of which were prepared hot already. Some was where you could cook. You know that you had to prepare yourself. A lot of it was canned items like canned meat, crackers you know cheese. Stuff like that.
Tim Carlson: Was that helpful or without electricity and those other basic elements that you normally use? Was it problematic to prepare?
James Caldwell: It provided that need for that moment. You know families and we were going into, you know, families with children and things of that nature. We just go pick it up and just go distributed. I mean we knew of people in and around the community and it doesn’t matter who or where who were. Who were not able to get to those distribution centers and some I said were seniors. And so, and some disabled so we had to make sure that we were able to reach those folk or we didn’t know where they were. And we were able to locate that to some of the relationships that we had shared with some of the senior facilities in the community.
Community Activism Post-Hurricane Harvey [0:19:14]
Tim Carlson: So, you weren’t just worried about yourself. You are worried about the community as a whole and trying to help other people. This is what your life became during the storm?
James Caldwell: Pretty much and pretty much what my life is every day. It’s not you know I’ve, I’ve been blessed. You know I’d like to sit here and tell you about this glorified life that I’ve built. But you know I that that would be a lie and right now I just enjoy doing what I can to try to make the quality of life better for others and that included trying to feed and it wasn’t so much as that even I have a nonprofit that’s called C.O.C.O, the Coalition of Community Organizations. And through that we were able to get donations okay and through that we worked with but three or four different churches. Well we were able to store and stock donations. Eventually we had to get a warehouse space. Storage space which we still currently have. And we get donations of appliances and things like that to help track you know as we rebuild homes and do things like that. We try to get appliances. We work with other entities in the process of doing so.
Tim Carlson: And this organization is called?
James Caldwell: C.O.C.O. Coalition of Community Organizations. That’s the synonym. C.O.C.O.
Tim Carlson: C.O.C.O. OK.
Survival After the Storm [0:20:40]
Tim Carlson: So how long were you staying with…
James Caldwell: The party.
Tim Carlson: With your neighbors because you couldn’t get home?
James Caldwell: I was actually about maybe three miles or four miles from where I actually lived. But, I was there for about a week.
Tim Carlson: And was it just to you and this family or were there other people?
James Caldwell: No. There were other people. There were other people.
Tim Carlson: So I’m assuming what you’re telling me is they were on high ground.
James Caldwell: Yeah.
Tim Carlson: And.
James Caldwell: Others. Yeah. And others came.
Tim Carlson: How many other people were there?
James Caldwell: It’s a three bedroom home and it’s an old home but I say it’s on higher ground and that must have been fifteen to eighteen people at that house. Oh you know this includes children and the like. You know.
Tim Carlson: For a week?
James Caldwell: Yeah. They were there longer. They were there longer. I was there for a week and then I decided that this after we had were able to do what we could do which was assistance in putting some things in place that I need to have somewhere to operate out of. You know so I could contact folks and set up some type of strategy to address these individuals in these communities and these churches and the churches would do a distribution but I need to make sure that that we were able to pick up materials and, you know, distribute materials and food in all of the above. And it was getting a little hectic in there about fifteen to eighteen people. Yeah.
Tim Carlson: So. For you was it just you there or did you have do you, did you have family also?
James Caldwell: It was just me. It was just me. When Harvey hit I don’t think no one anticipated what happened as a result of it. I do have family here I have six more sisters and brothers but they’re scattered all around the city and on the outskirts. And the inner outskirts.
Tim Carlson: And how did they fare?
James Caldwell: All except one did fairly well. You know this my parents home. Our baby sister lives there. She got flooded. Yeah. She got about four or five inches.
Tim Carlson: And where was that?
James Caldwell: That’s northeast Houston. Northeast Houston. That’s a little north and east of here. A little farther north and east of here. Then we were able to offer some assistance to her to, through some of these organizations to rebuild.
Communication in the Wake of the Storm [0:23:07]
Tim Carlson: Were you able to communicate with your family during the storm?
James Caldwell: Yeah. We were able to communicate. It was, it was a necessity that we contact each other to find out how each other was and what each other’s status was. And after that was done and then of course we establish contact. But there were individuals who didn’t know their sister or brother or their mom was so and so we had set up a network. A little phone bank. You know where folks would come in and we used our cell phones. Yeah. We used our cell phones.
Tim Carlson: How did that work?
James Caldwell: We would just set up, oh, say 9:00 to 11:00 say 9:00 to 12:00. If you need to make a phone call. If you need to contact a family member. If you need to contact about your meds or reasons. The doctor, whatever it was then you have access to that.
Tim Carlson: How was this stuff, how did that phone bank, how did that evolve? Is that something you set up? Was it impromptu?
James Caldwell: It was something, that yeah, yeah. It, it was impromptu by me because I didn’t. I happened to have my charger with me. They didn’t have theirs. And we didn’t have electricity initially. But unlike where I live. I think it was the next day or two the electricity came on. And that’s why everybody flocked to this house, you know, because there was electricity. And it was one that did not get flooded. One of several. And the other two out of the town. So we, we want to use more than one home but that was the only one that was available. But as a result of that there were people who want to know how their sisters was doing, how their mom was doing, how their brother doing. All of this, and this is part of the chaos that, you know, that Harvey created. You know that overall concern. So, I just started utilizing my phone and then we were able to get another one and another one and so we set up that time in the morning and in the evenings and at night if you didn’t catch up with them that morning a family member could find out who and how they were doing and what have you. Then you had that opportunity that evening.
Tim Carlson: How do you spread word that you had, had phones that people could use or did it just organically?
James Caldwell: It just kind of organically morphed out of. Once the water was kind of gone down a little bit. And, and, this was about let’s say the lights came on that second day after Harvey you know.
Tim Carlson: Where you were staying?
James Caldwell: Yeah. Where I was staying. Yeah. Exactly. And so realizing that we were using it sparingly. You know I’m during that time because I had talked, I had contacted my family. So they were aware, but, afterwards when folks starting asking the questions, that’s when we decided we would just establish some means folks to contact their family members. We have we have, their were seniors in this home, you know, and disabled and they wanted to know where their children was. And their children wanted to know where they were. You know, I mean they tried to reach him and hadn’t been able recent someone who didn’t have access to a cell phone. They had house phones but they couldn’t get to their house. And then once they got to their house it had been flooded four or five feet of water. And you know it was unlivable. Yeah, I mean because by the time they were actually able to go in it mold had set in. The heat had come up and it was unhealthy for them to live in, under those conditions. So yeah.
Accounts Related of Storm Experiences in the Kashmere Garden/Fifth Ward Area [0:26:31]
Tim Carlson: This can be kind of personal. But if you can. I know the storm was overwhelming. But, for the sake of, hearing this later. Could you identify a story of one of the most impactful stories or incidents that occurred during the storm. Can you?
James Caldwell: Yeah. I’ll never forget it. About two or three blocks from where I’m staying. Now with this lady who lived there and she lived alone. Okay. And we had come by there on several occasions. OK we were just doing the neighborhood. There was still water we’re still knee in waist deep in the water but because of the slopiness in the community. She lived in one of those areas where the slopes went down and we would come through there we would hear banging and we didn’t know. You know we just assumed that maybe it’s a pipe or something. You know that’s under pressure or something like.But we are hearing banging and then we didn’t know what it was. Then finally one day we decided we would, just go and knock on this ladies door and you know we still were knee deep or higher and we didn’t know that. We didn’t know who lived there. We did not know who lived there. To be honest, we just knew that that’s where the noise was coming up. And so we decided that we would just go there and we knocked on the door. The door was open. We went in and we found this lady in her bed, you know water. She’s in the bed here and the water is here. You know, I mean, she hadn’t eaten and drinking anything a couple of days and all of the above and there was it was it was gut-wrenching and hard. But we had to carry her out of the, her own home, you know and try to provide over the water. And uh.
Tim Carlson: Was she elderly?
James Caldwell: In her, I would say early fifties. You know not, not that.
Tim Carlson: She wasn’t able to get out because?
James Caldwell: She wasn’t able to get out period. I mean because she had and she had at least four feet of water four to five feet of water. She wasn’t that big in stature you know and she cried and she would say she had, her voice. She had lost her voice screaming for help. You know.
Tim Carlson: And this is how long. How long had she been there?
James Caldwell: Two days.
Tim Carlson: Hadn’t eaten?
James Caldwell: No. No. No one checked on her.
Tim Carlson: So when you found her. And you. How many people were involved in getting her out and were?
James Caldwell: There were only two of us, me and another guy. And we were just walking the neighborhood to see what we could do like, I say, in knee, waist deep water. Just as it could, we knew, unlike some areas of town where you had the Cajin’ Navy and all these other folks coming in. Nobody came in there. They came afterward. After the water was gone, but nobody came here. We knew this.
Tim Carlson: There being?
James Caldwell: Kashmere Garden, Fifth Ward. The areas that were hit harder. You know.
Tim Carlson: You’re saying that whole area Kashmere Garden?
James Caldwell: Yeah. That was hit very, very hard. Yeah, I mean there, there are complexes and I don’t mean to get off the subject here but there are apartment complexes that were just wiped out. Families, you know. I know one complex that may have had three to five hundred residents and these are men women and children. Then it’s gone. It looked like Sarajevo. Looks like a war zone. Look like Iraq, you know but there’s families.
Tim Carlson: You’re saying the actual structures failed?
James Caldwell: Yeah. Yeah exactly. You know roof caved in. You know this, the water was so, and there was a little bayou, it ran next to it. You know. Folks lives were still on the wall. Pictures, toys, cell phones, bottles. You think of it. It was just everywhere. But the people were gone. People have, you know, pictures of the grandchildren, you know, and graduation pictures and wedding pictures and all but the people were gone. And we still don’t know today where those people are. We know that they went to maybe George R. Brown or maybe someplace else but, we don’t know where they gone. They haven’t been back there. No, because of the mold and the infestation and the health hazards and risks.
Tim Carlson: So, once the storm occurred and you went in somewhere and realized someone was gone. You’re saying they would never come back?
James Caldwell: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. When we’re taking this lady out here. We, what really was gut-wrenching to me. She was near death. We felt like she was. You know what I mean and we had to hurry up and get her out of there. And to this day she, she survived. She’s still in her home. We were able to get a home repaired and all of the other. But it, it let me know just how helpless, you know, even with the efforts that we make you know that we really are, you know, this, this lady was. And, and I saw kids the same way. You know I mean this is, I say I saw some things that really I did want to see. You know a child with no diapers. Babies, you know, no milk. You know, no clothes. And I mean seniors, you know laying in feces and things of that nature. It’s some things that I saw that just tore me apart. I mean we took rags and shirts and things to make diapers out of. And in some cases, yeah we, some of the finer elements of our communities we had to go in the stores to get Enfamil and, milk, and you know, stuff like that for the children.
Tim Carlson: So the lady that you took out of the home. Rescued from the home. Once you had her out, where did you bring her?
James Caldwell: OK. We actually took her into a high rise in, on the ground. We had to just lay, I think he took his shirt. He took his shirt off and we just laid on the ground. That’s all the place we could find and there water, still water places. So we found a little where the water and we got and we laid her there. You know, of course, I was there with her and we call for some help, some assistance. And she happened to be one of those who I think the Coast Guard. We called the Coast Guard for her. Coast Guard didn’t make it because they were on the other side of town doing whatever. And so we were able, someone came through with a boat and, you know, we were able to put her in a boat and get her out of there. Now I don’t know what happened to her until after she returned back home. We followed up. But as far as what hospital she went to and where she was going.
Tim Carlson: So you got help for her?
James Caldwell: Yeah, exactly.
Role of Grass-Root/Private Aid in Rebuilding After the Storm [0:33:46]
Tim Carlson: And then she was taken care of from there but, not to get lost on her, but this seems very relevant. Since you know. What is her life like now? Is her home OK?
James Caldwell: Her home’s OK. About two weeks after that a group came down from, I want to say Chicago, Atlanta. Somewhere, I can’t quite remember but they came down. They came down on a bus. And they, we were able to get in contact with them and about 25 to 30 of them came. They gutted her home for her. They took all the damaged sheetrock out all the old furniture. Everything that was damaged and misused and we were able to restore, rebuild. And the sheet rock the floors and all the stuff as a result of that. And her family. Her (indecipherable) family bought her appliances, sofas and beds and all that stuff. You know I, I may have kind of lightly dealt with that but this lady, now hadn’t been able to use the restroom. She hadn’t been able to brush her teeth, comb her hair. Nothing. And you know she was fearful of snakes. And all this and she had endured two nights of this. You know with no lights in the door. You know, no food. She didn’t know how to swim. She was afraid of the water and all these and she shared all those things with me.
Tim Carlson: How many instances this lady that you’ve helped and the group that came down and rebuilt her house. Was it private?
James Caldwell: No. This is a church group, it was somewhere. It was a church group mixed with, it was private, yeah. It was.
Tim Carlson: Meaning it wasn’t a government organization.
James Caldwell: No, no. Wasn’t any government. No. No.
Tim Carlson: Or any other charitable organization?
James Caldwell: There was very.
Tim Carlson: So that when I say private I mean it was someone coming from somewhere else.
James Caldwell: Yes. Exactly.
Tim Carlson: How many instances do you know of personally, that you’ve heard of, where people were helped by private entities.
James Caldwell: Perhaps 90 to 95 percent, of 90 to 95 percent, of the immediate relief after Harvey was done by private churches, organizations, entities from out of town or from the other side of town.
Tim Carlson: So to put this into context. You say 95 percent. That can be 95 percent of ten people you know of. Or it could be a thousand. Give me some ideas.
James Caldwell: It was we’re, we’re talking. No. We’re talking thousands because many different organizations, churches, groups. They would just contact once a base was set up and that was just not C.O.C.O doing this. There was this other organization doing it. This other organization or, and setting up doing the same things that we were doing. You see and we networked with each other so that we would know there’s a bed over here. There’s food over here there’s Pampers over here. Know, milk for the baby there. You know all these things and that coordinated effort is what enabled us. You know its through donations from wherever they came to us as well as other entities. We did not matter. It didn’t matter to us. We just wanted to address the need.
Tim Carlson: And you said 90 to 95 percent of the immediate care. What do you define as immediate?
James Caldwell: Immediate?
Tim Carlson: A Day, a month?
James Caldwell: No no. We’re talking for the two months, at least, at least two months. It was two to three months before the city or any organized or structured or governmental entity came in to try to offer any of any assistance.
Tim Carlson: Now I want you to know I’m not going to forget that part of it. But, so in the first two months after the storm. Most of the care, rebuilding, helping of the immediate needs of people’s lives was coming from, more or less, grass root…
James Caldwell: Exactly…
Tim Carlson: …private organizations…
James Caldwell: Exactly, exactly. Some of these folks were without power for a month, six weeks, eight weeks, two months. You know, that you know that’s you know out of school. How those kids, how you wash your clothes, how do they eat, how do they get dressed?
Tim Carlson: How, how does that make you feel that for two months. And, how does that make you feel, that, I mean does it make you feel good that humanity stepped forward or are there other feelings you have because?
James Caldwell: I mean, I feel good, I feel good that humanity stepped forward. You know because, as a minister, I believe that that’s a good portion in human nature. You know that will answer the bell when issues or circumstances arise and there’s disasters.
Governmental Aid After Hurricane Harvey Contrasted with Private Efforts [0:39:28]
James Caldwell: Where I’m disenfranchised and discordant is the response from probable (quote unquote) governmental entities. You know. The city the state and the federal government. You know their response to communities of color- those in need. I mean this has been the issue. It is not like it wasn’t bought before them. There were a handful of trailers brought to our communities and tons of them. This is what I know, it is what I actually saw. You know there were tons that sit, hundreds of them that sit in storage and locations. A lot of them were distributed to other sides of town. But here in this area only a handful and we go for the northeast and we can go further east. You know it, it just did not happen. You know and, and it, it angered me it frustrated me, you know I’m mad because.
Tim Carlson: You’re saying Kashmir Garden, the Fifth Ward.
James Caldwell: Trinity Garden, Scenic Woods, Fontaine, Settegast.
Tim Carlson: Further east did not get the attention other areas of.
James Caldwell: The city, yeah And that you said gets us back to the equity aspect and the disaster preparedness. You know, OK you say you have a disaster preparedness plan in place but for who?
Tim Carlson: You say you, who?
James Caldwell: I’m talking about the city, the city and the county. You know the city and the county. You have a disaster preparedness plan in place but it’s not implemented in our communities. What happened? There was a coordinated effort. A somewhat coordinated effort for other areas of town. But what about this area of town. You know, where were the resources you know but I can tell you for two months some people without lights you know and what have you. As I say it was a disaster. That’s understandable. But two months? I mean a city the size of Houston. So two months later we will still providing food. We were still providing water. We were still cleaning out houses six months down the road.
Tim Carlson: You mean the grass roots.
James Caldwell: Yeah, yeah exactly. That’s what I mean the grassroots groups of all organizations. Yes. I’ve done more mucking and gutting than I ever care to do in my life.
Recognition of Need for Activism and Self-Sufficiency [0:41:50]
Tim Carlson: How, because the general community, in your opinion, the Fifth Ward, Kashmere Gardens I know you’ve stated that this just brought it to the forefront. This is shone the light on it. How do they react, since Harvey, to this? Is there any kind of lingering emotional effects towards maybe how they saw things happening in other places or viewed it as compared to here?
James Caldwell: What that’s this, that’s this fear factor and this psychological impact from some our children in the community. You know when they see it rain and things of that nature having experienced Harvey, there’s a little fear and they get a little afraid and they ask the questions, you know, is this going to happen. You know when you talk to someone who’s 5 or six years old experience something like that a seven and now their nine. And when it rains again they’re looking around and, and you see the fear. And some of our seniors are the same way. You know I mean they’re because they’re independent. A lot of them are independent and they have to be reliant upon others for their safety, overall safety and well-being, for the community at large. There has been a campaign and we, we’ve been striving that myself and several others. You know that of quote unquote community advocates community leaders and what have you to educate our communities on what is taking place. Why it’s taking place to get them a little bit more engaged and involved and become a little bit more vocal. You know our model basically with C.O.C.O is if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu and you know we’ve been on this menu for quite some time and we need to get our communities have a seat at the table.
Tim Carlson: Could you repeat that phrase if you’re not?
James Caldwell: At the table you’re on the menu.
Tim Carlson: Could you describe what that means?
James Caldwell: Okay. What that basically means, when decisions or choices are made in regard to infrastructure here, disaster preparedness plans, assistance, help. What in, in what area of healthcare, infrastructure. It does not matter. Rather than telling a community what it needs, allow the community to come and share what it desires. We don’t want to be told as a community, and you know, Fifth Ward is a historically black community. You know our history, our identity, our culture. We’re trying to keep portions of that in tack and when incidences like Harvey come the possibility or probability for that to change, gentrification to come in and change the overall appearance and culture, the history of that community is threatened, and we’ve got to maintain and sustain that and the only way you can do that is to have a seat at the table. You know so that you can make decisions and choices.
Tim Carlson: Can find a seat at the table. At what table?
James Caldwell: Okay. At the table where planning is taking place. Okay, the table where allocation is taking place. The table where the discussion of what is to happen is taking place. Just being able to offer your opinion, your views, and to, to make a determination as to whether or not you understand that you have a right to say that. You know, whereas, what city council or a state legislature, whatever it may be, having that voice amongst the quote end quote powers that be. Being able to be able to speak to power, you know and not having any fear with regard to it. You know, we want to try educate our community.
Tim Carlson: Fear of?
James Caldwell: No. Being able to have no fear to speak to power. Okay. No. And that fear being because that’s the cliche some in our communities that they’re going to do what they’re going to do anyway.
Tim Carlson: They?
James Caldwell: Yeah.
Tim Carlson: They?
James Caldwell: And we talk about the governmental entities and all the politicians, the developers and all the like. But they do it and it’s those entities because they know what they’re doing we don’t know what we’re doing. We don’t have a seat at the table. We don’t know the planning that takes place about our communities. When healthcare issues are discussed, when infrastructure issues are discussed, when immigration, housing issues are discussed. You know, I mean, you don’t tell us. You talk about affordable housing but you make that decision for us, you don’t come into our community and see what we want to see. The, the displacement that Harvey has created, you know, has created a lot of vacant lots. A lot of people have left, you know. These folks need homes. They chose this. Sell house, whatever, I don’t want to come back. This was too much for me. You know. And then some of the students, I mean, the children upon graduation, high school and college, they chose to live elsewhere. Not necessarily in the city of Houston but around the country, and so they sustained mom and dad from a distance and when something like this occurs mom and dad just leave the home without taking care of it and now the property is up for grabs and developers in this, those parts of gentrification process, but it was all brought about from the disaster because there is no, nothing in place from every standpoint to restore it. That community, or rebuild that community. And I’m speaking this on behalf of generations of a lack of equity in these communities. Yeah. Black community being one.
Equity in Regards to the Black Community [0:48:07]
Tim Carlson: Redefine lack of equity
James Caldwell: Oh yeah. Well thinking in terms of equity and I like to use this illustration. There’s a guy standing at a fence, you know, and he’s looking over the fence watching the ballgame. But he had two kids who are only about half his size and they are looking through the bars trying to look through the fence and see, and so he goes and he gets two boxes and he allows them to stand on those boxes so they are at the same level he is. So he can, they can see over the fence. They can see what he sees. And what he’s done he’s brought them up to his standards. And that’s what we’re talking about. That’s how I define equity. Bringing a community up to a standard that’s not necessarily equal. It is equal, but it’s not necessarily equal. We’re just trying to get you to the level where everyone else is. And that will include resources, information, education, you know, all of these so you will have the same access that everyone else does. You know, whether it’s through the funding, city funding, whether it’s housing, affordable housing. Whatever it is, you know, educational opportunities, informational opportunities, training opportunities, verification opportunities. Whatever it may be, you know whatever the criminal justice system, you know, it’s not always on an equitable basis. In other words, sometimes white privilege supercedes for the same crime. You know, a black, hispanic may be given thirty years for a crime that a caucasion gets probation. You know and, it could be from the same judge. You know an equitable justice system, you know having the opportunity to want that, having the opportunity to elect someone who will address that and those concerns for those communities. There are so many. I know I’m going around and it’s random here, but all of these factors and as I said earlier you have to be willing to connect the dots to see the bigger picture. And the reason why. I want to say Wilson, that was her name. I’m trying to remember her name. I didn’t want to use it at first because it at first, but this lady that was in this house, the reason that she was in this house was because there was poor infrastructure and drainage in the community. She wasn’t that far away from a bayou that there were planned and in place for the last ten years to widen and deepen the, for ten years it had been approved but not implemented. You know, so where did all these bond monies go to. You know, I mean now your asking for more bond monies. And this is what I’m talking about organizations coming together. Different non-profit, different community, and having that seat at the table so we can make this determination. Okay we have an infrastructure problem. We have a flood problem. We have a drainage problem. You know your getting millions upon millions of dollars or billions of dollars and we want some of that to be allocated here to address our needs so when the next Harvey or the next disaster occurs, how will we deal with it? You know, if you’re not going to prepare us for disaster preparedness then we need to be willing to do it ourselves.
Tim Carlson: So this is a long term structural problem.
James Caldwell: Yeah.
Residual Effects of Hurricane Harvey on Grass-Roots Social Activism [0:51:45]
Tim Carlson: Do you believe Harvey will affect change around here, from the grassroots, that people will come to the table?
James Caldwell: Harvey has.
Tim Carlson: Or do you see that happening?
James Caldwell: This is already happening. One of the things that that we had a problem was the environmental impact that Harvey had on a community like the Fifth Ward. There are two superfund sites here in the Fifth Ward and three toxic sites and so far along and with that type of flooding that occurred we’re concerned about ground contamination. We’re concerned about ground contamination. We’re concerned about water contamination and all that. E.P.A. has a looseness on the regulations which they’ll deal with toxic sites that they’re trying to build on. We’re trying to get them to re-test and all these other things. But what Harvey did, what is the issue shined the light on, the spotlight on all the issues that most definitely is the environmental impact that it had and, let’s be honest, our community is not environmentally conscious you know of things that have affected them for decades.
Tim Carlson: Are communities being?
James Caldwell: Black and brown communities. You know when you look on the map from an environmental justice perspective chemical plants, batch plants, metal recyclers, smoldering plant their all in black and Hispanic, black and brown communities. This is where they are. You know and for decades. There’s an old creosote plant not a, not far away from here. It’s been closed for about twenty years now, twenty, twenty five years but it was there since the early nineteen hundreds. I think by the 1920s there are about sixty years making creosote. Creosote we know is a cancer causing material. One of the ladies on my board died because she lived two blocks away from, you know two blocks away it was. You know and she developed cancer. You know and many other people have cardiovascular breathing problems. All of the skin diseases as a result of that. But there’s no study done because there’s no effort by the medical community or the money. And then the academic community will come in and they’ll come in and they’ll do the studies and all this stuff here but there’s no follow up.
Tim Carlson: So, have you seen any new local organizations set up to come to the table?
James Caldwell: Yeah.
Tim Carlson: Since Harvey?
James Caldwell: Oh yeah. Several of them. A.S.C. is one. Of course C.O.C.O is another
Tim Carlson: What is A.S.C?
James Caldwell: Oh God, it’s, it’s just a synonym it’s A.S.C. Oh C means something.
Tim Carlson: Whatever. Whatever it is.
James Caldwell: T.E.J.A.S. is another. Texas Environmental Justice Activity Services. AIR Alliance is another. Public Citizen is another. E.D.F., you know, these are some of the national organizations, but the grass roots organizations are AIR Alliance, T.E.J.A.S., A.S.C., C.O.C.O and (garbled). These are all local environmental groups, which C.O.C.O. is a part of.
Tim Carlson: And do you think they’re being heard and having an impact?
James Caldwell: Oh yeah. Oh yes. Because we’re, that’s been a little bit of a political upheaval. You know from the city council and mayor perspective to the county judge and the county judges. We have a new county judge and then all of the above. So, so we have formed coalitions and groups that’s trying to address the housing aspect from an equity perspective. The waste water from the equity perspective. Flood and green, green, greenhouse infrastructure, of green infrastructure. You know, I mean because that’s something that’s a long term goal and objective but for communities of color it’s feasible but not financially feasible. We can’t afford that on the average income is twenty six thousand a year. How can you afford to leave your home? You can’t. You know, you can’t do it, you know. It’s heartbreaking because you see this, you know, and it’s almost like you do not just see what’s before you but you see the prospect of doom and gloom.
Tim Carlson: You mean?
James Caldwell: Doom and gloom. Do you see that? You see this transformation taking place and you fight hard against it. You struggle, you know, and then you come back and you form alliances and things of that nature to try to address the health care concerns, the environmental concerns. You know what I mean. All the criminal justice issues. All of these, you know, and you fight tooth and nail, for you know housing to try to get a deal to restore your community and in the process you try to make it affordable and bring economic growth into job opportunities, training opportunities. You know rather than closing schools because you know when schools close the neighborhoods gone.
Loss of Cultural Identity within the Community Due to Gentrification [0:57:23]
Tim Carlson: So, define what you mean? Where’s the doom and gloom?
James Caldwell: Okay. The doom and gloom is as far as the history, the culture, the identity of the community.
Tim Carlson: Being?
James Caldwell: Yeah.
Tim Carlson: Going away?
James Caldwell: Tim Carlson: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Going away. It’s lost. It’s history and all that.
Tim Carlson: It is, or?
James Caldwell: No. It, it In other words it or not it you see that slowly moving monster or train moving in your direction and you want to try to slow it down or halt it. Change is inevitable. Everybody knows that. But in the process you don’t have to lose history, identity and culture. Yeah, there are those in our communities who will sell us out, you know their is a lot of infighting going on for financial gain. But the majority of the community wants to maintain who it is and what it is. You know, but there are so many who have fought and been trailblazers.
Tim Carlson: Was there gentrification going on in this area before Harvey? And you’ve mentioned the fear of gentrification because people being able to take advantage of the disaster?
James Caldwell: Yeah. And I think we saw the prospects, we saw gentrification slowly moving in and as you go along Jensen Drive a little farther south you can see that process. It’s moving in this direction. Okay. Come from the south just southeast of downtown and moving to the fifth ward well northeast of here. We’re seeing that process taking and we’ve seen it somewhat escalate but we’re trying to put a halt. Because as I say Harvey shined that spotlight, you know, and we’re trying to change is another way to say it. But we want to make if you want to come into the community and be a developer and all these, that’s fine. Well what about the residents in the community is it affordable? Or it’s not affordable when you are building two – three hundred thousand dollar condos. You know and the average income in this community is twenty five, twenty six thousand dollars a year. We can’t afford that. And so what happens? People, you know, in the community get lost. You sell your property. You sell your home. The home that Mom and Dad bought, paid for and all you have to do is pay taxes on it. But all around you are three, four hundred thousand dollar condos and your property tax just went higher than your house note.
Community Response to Gentrification [1:00:03]
Tim Carlson: So what are the groups that are coming to the table now? Attempting to do, as you say, change is inevitable. There is nothing wrong with people building and everything. But what? Is their plan and what, what is your ideas for making it equitable? Or for developers or anyone that would.
James Caldwell: Well one of the things that I said earlier is having a seat at the table to, and bringing forth the facts and the data. You know looking at a community whose income and economic growth has been stagnating. As a developer, you know coming in we would prefer you build affordable housing to sustain the community itself. We would prefer that. But we also know that there needs to be job opportunities. You know, there needs to be training here in these communities. Now with community we realized that and we know that, you know. So what do you bring to the table? Because we’re at the table. Now we understand that, you know, you’re a developer, even the city itself you may want to come in and get this property, what have you, because of back taxes and all that. And the city is not into real estate. They sell. And they said that today is bidder. You know once the auction takes place and we don’t want to see. If developers are going to come in we want to have the opportunity to negotiate with them and the city to maintain who we are and what we are. What affordable housing would infrastructure being put in place with the possibility and probability for economic growth. You know, through training providing businesses, whether they be small businesses or just coming into the community to be able to sustain the community. It’s a well-known fact that if you work or if you have enough money, you work where you make enough money and you will spend that money in your community. You won’t go across town to the malls and all that stuff. You will spend the majority of it in your community.
Tim Carlson: Do you see hope for this area, keeping the legacy of the past alive with all this work? Are there enough people staying that want to.
James Caldwell: You know, you can’t give up hope. You know, once you give up hope the game is over and so we will fight tooth and nail. We live in a, we’re in a food desert so this is a food desert as well. So that’s another aspect that needs to be addressed. So we will fight tooth and nail to try to maintain and sustain our identity.
Tim Carlson: So you have a lot of people around you wanting to stay?
James Caldwell: Oh yeah. The civic clubs, the super neighborhoods, the churches, you know, unfortunately a lot of churches in here in this community, its membership grew up in those churches and are a part of those churches, but they moved out of the community. The majority of, I won’t say all, but the majority of them did. You know and they still come back here to fellowship.
Tim Carlson: This is our time, not just because of Harvey?
James Caldwell: Yeah, over time, you know. But as the resources are made available and it becomes more affordable because, let’s just face it, you know developers and those who are in it for the properties profit calculus. They don’t care about you. They don’t care about your status or what you make over there. They’re only in it for the profit margin. You know capitalism has to consume, otherwise it dies. You know, that’s a gravel consuming machine. It doesn’t care anything about the identity, the culture, the history of this as long as it’s a profit margin attached at the end. You know, and so we have to ask what we want to do to address that.
The Psychological Legacy of Hurricane Harvey [1:03:52]
Tim Carlson: Tell me about, you mentioned earlier, the psychological impact and I know you mentioned that kids are afraid when there’s a storm coming. Is there a broader picture to the psychological impact to the community? What, what do you see as, directly from Harvey, happening that is affecting people that’s going to, maybe, be a negative burden on the area?
James Caldwell: The mindset that. We don’t know. We don’t know. You know we’re trying to revert that mindset, that behavior, that thought pattern. You know we’re trying to change the way that people think because they’ve seen it, they’ve witnessed it themselves and they lived it, you know, and tried to get them to overcome that. And this is the majority impulse because, you know, folks will say, well, I don’t want to go through Harvey. Rather than go through that I’d rather move.
Tim Carlson: And now are they saying they don’t want to go through Harvey because of the storm, or because of the psychological?
James Caldwell: The pain, the suffering, you know.
Tim Carlson: That has nothing to do with the meteorological effect?
James Caldwell: The fear. The not knowing. The uncertainty. The psychological impact that it had on, you know what I mean, like this, Ms. Wilson, you know. She doesn’t mention it now but she’s still affected by it psychologically. You know, the impact to be a sweet little lady, you know but to be basically abandoned and isolated for two days. You know and no help no (garbled) and that’s, she’s just one of perhaps hundreds others. You know, I mean we just happened to find her there. I mean, but. That story that she shares with others in the community, you know, and others have experienced that. You know that’s a psychological blow or blotch that stays with them and rather than we go through that again they would rather say ‘I will move’ and what have you. And the fear of losing one life or losing their grandchildren or losing, you know, that’s, we, we’ve even had some, I don’t, I’ve had the opportunity to visit some in the hospital who the pressure got too much. You know psychologically they were not able to deal with it so they had to be admitted, you know as a result of the trauma that they went through. You know these were working people, you know, with children. I mean you had, there’s a mother and father, you know, you can’t. You have to leave your children because you don’t know what to do, what is, what is going on. And you’re feeling this certain way and you are fearful and doubtful and you, you can’t go to work and you don’t have no job. Now, not that people didn’t have them before the storm, but you don’t have one now after the storm. So that kind of pressure, emotion, psychologically causes quite a few of them broke down.
Tim Carlson: So to be clear. There was a lot of psychological, well people are afraid and they, in this area, would feel safer living other places? Or they don’t see that there will be change done here so they may be, they might want to live somewhere else or they might see that they’re safer.
James Caldwell: The threat of and, and if, if the state.
Tim Carlson: And all coming from Harvey? Yeah well the stain is even if I move it can happen here but it’s, it’s just psychological block, you know. A block or whatever you want to refer to it as. It’s there. You know, it’s, it’s there. And how do I deal with that? Do I need to go get treatment? Do I need to go, you know, see a psychiatrist, a sociologist? What do I do about, I have this thing that I can’t, I don’t know how to deal with it.
Tim Carlson: So you’re talking this thing is the legacy, the psychological legacy of Harvey?
James Caldwell: Exactly. The psychological impact of Harvey. You know there’s carry over and it still exists in the community itself.
Tim Carlson: So we have this psychological harm that’s occurred because of Harvey. You see that is widespread?
James Caldwell: Well, it, it’s always been widespread because see the horror of seeing some of the things that used, that they saw and they experienced. You know, I mean with their newborn babies, with their children. You know with their disabled mom or dad or with themselves. You know, I mean not wondering if they’re going to die, drown within the next hour, half hour. You know, I mean, these were issues and they, and they still are traumatized by that. They, oh yeah, they are going to work and they are doing their thing. But they’re traumatized by it. So most guys get through it. Recently the ITC disaster (Intercontinental Terminals Company, Deer Park, Texas, March, 2019), I, you know with the smoke and all that. That, all that did was just light, flipped another switch on, you know, in regard to the disaster aspect.
Tim Carlson: It was a trigger.
James Caldwell: It was a trigger, exactly. So. How do you stay here, you know, I’m being flooded out now I can’t breathe the air, you know, it’s unfair. All these things but it was all triggered as a result of.
Tim Carlson: Do the people around here, when they see the ITC disaster, do they just fear for just another disaster or are they fearing that organizations, that are supposed to help everybody, are going to not help here?
James Caldwell: Oh no, we feel that they will help but, as I mentioned earlier, we try to get them to connect to these organizations that we don’t have to provide them the information. To provide the resources to provide them with information in regards to their health care. The short term and long term effects of these chemicals and get on with their life. You see because there is some short term and long term psychological emotional effects that have yet to be determined by all this.
Lack of Resources to Aid Psychological Recovery [1:10:50]
Tim Carlson: And do you believe there is, there are the resources available to your community to help with all those psychological.
James Caldwell: No. No. That’s, that’s perhaps one entity the food, the suppliers, the materials, the water and all that, that’s great. The education, the knowledge, the information, the contacts. The emotional and psychological impact that Harvey has on this community has not been addressed.
Tim Carlson: Could you explore that more for me?
James Caldwell: The health department. City of Houston. County. And even some of the nonprofits, you know, come in and they’ll evaluate your health and you know diagnosis this and diagnose that. You know, based on your exposure and what you’ve been, what you exposed to. But from the psychological and the emotional. Nothing. You may have one nonprofit that I’m aware of. She’s is a counselor. You know who will come in and try to counsel. You know Harvey victims and survivors.
Tim Carlson: You say there’s one that you know of?
James Caldwell: That I’m aware of.
Tim Carlson: And this city, there are countless people that need help?
James Caldwell: Countless. Countless. You know, I mean, and unfortunately in our communities, you know, we, we like to medicate our problems and issues. Drinking, doing drugs, self medicating. Yeah, I mean, I can’t deal with this. I self medicate and, because I can’t, because I don’t want to deal with the psychological aspect of what I’m going through. And then there’s no resources to connect me to it. I mean, I know how to connect to it then I self medicate. I mean because I don’t want to feel the pain. I don’t want those.
Tim Carlson: So in a sense, without fixing this or compounding the problem anymore?
James Caldwell: Yeah. Exactly.
Tim Carlson: And, although there were structural problems before Harvey made it much worse?
James Caldwell: Yeah. They compounded it. They compounded it, yeah. Especially when you think in terms of the psychological and emotional impact that it had. You know, for some, myself included. I’d not seen nothing like this. This is stuff you see, from an American perspective, overseas. You know this happens overseas. This happens in foreign countries. You know, it doesn’t happen in America. You know, Katrina gave us a little glimpse of what could happen and Katrina itself was devastating. You know, I mean but then you have Harvey. You know, I mean, and you know.
Hurricane Katrina Survivors and Hurricane Harvey [1:13:33]
Tim Carlson: Do you have Katrina survivors that you personally know in the community?
James Caldwell: Yeah. Who would double whammied.
Tim Carlson: How do they view the Harvey experience compared, and everybody’s is different to what they went through Katrina? Have you had any talks about that?
James Caldwell: Yeah. We’ve, we’ve had some conversations with some who still live in the community now they were Harvey, I mean there were Katrina survivors. The only reason why they’re here is because they survived Katrina and we had quite a few of them who left as a result of Harvey. You know, they brought their families here thinking that it would be safer and they wouldn’t have to go through this again. And they go through it again. And that was just too traumatic for them. You know that’s where the counseling, you know the psychological evaluations and all that sort of came into play but it did not with Harvey. And I understand addressing the immediate need: food, water, clothing, shelter. That’s an immediate need. I understand that, but if you’re going to do additional ministry, stories then point if you want to address the man then you address the full men, you know, all, all aspects of them. But the ones that are still here, okay, they, they understood that, yeah, Katrina hit and it hit hard. But it was the levees that created the major problems, that created the flooding, the excess flooding in the Ninth Ward and all the others. You know, I mean these were still low income minority communities. You know, they understood it and they had some previous warning. At least some of the say they did. You know, that the levees was not going to hold.
Tim Carlson: We’re talking.
James Caldwell: Yeah. Yes. New Orleans right. And, you know, and of course for Katrina brought rain and all that. For those who share with me have shared they have not seen and was not prepared for. I think Katrina was a five day event. For five straight days it never stopped raining. You know I mean, and they say they had not seen it. You know, Katrina was a hit and it’s gone. You know I mean levees broke. And I don’t want to belittle Katrina because it is nothing that one should have gone through. It was a major, major disaster. You know I mean, and it costs a lot of lives. You know to this date the accurate count is still uncertain. But, for those that I’ve talked to they just simply told me it would not stop raining. I mean they were just hoping that the streets are flooded you know with three full foot of water and they’re assuming they’re okay any minute. You know, the next hour or two the rain will stop and it just wouldn’t. You know, it just wouldn’t for the next day or two days. It just kept coming and that had a big psychological impact on them. It had a big psychological impact on the children and a big psychological impact on their parents, you know, grandparents, you know, husbands, wives. You know because we used to get rain events where we are. You know, I mean, and it can rain all day, sometimes for two days, several days but for this constant bombardment for four or five days they were not prepared for that. You know, just wave after wave after wave after wave after wave. You know even on the west side of town that was flooded. The only reason why it was (garbled) was the levees otherwise they would have broke, you know, and then it really would have been a disaster all over the entire city. But, the psychological and emotional impact that Harvey had I don’t think it’s has yet to be fully determined.
Employment and Crime Impact from Hurricane Harvey [1:17:27]
James Caldwell: Okay, some folks left and when I say folks left, husbands and wives with children, those that couldn’t find any work. The wife and the kids left to go be with mom, dad, sister, brother, uncle, aunt, somebody, you know, so the kids could get back to a normal way of life. The husband, brother, uncle, mother, dad. You know, I mean, if you couldn’t find work then you had to, now we’re dealing with the criminal justice issue. You know, I mean when you rob or steal, you know, or do drugs or sell drugs.
Tim Carlson: Because they couldn’t find work?
James Caldwell: Couldn’t find work. Don’t want to do it. You know, I mean, and I’m not talking about a majority of folk. I’m only talking about a handful. But you know when you, when it becomes a means of survival rather than, you know, I got to go look for a job today, you know, now it becomes a means of survival and I’m, my tendency, to really excuse the expression, give a damn is gone because my wife and my kids or, you know, my mom and my dad are gone. You know, I mean they had to move and stay with my brother until. I’m at the house. The house is damaged. The house means that I got to find work. If I don’t find work that’s like.
Tim Carlson: You’re talking about other people or yourself?
James Caldwell: No, no. I’m talking about others. Yeah, but there’s a psychological component attached to that. You know I mean, so who’s going to counsel me? You know I mean, I can’t find a lawyer. You know I’m thinking about stealing or, I mean, selling drugs. You know what i mean? What, what can I do? I can’t find work. You know, and this is a week after Harvey. You know I mean, knowing this is happening.
Tim Carlson: Are we talking about a group of people that were employed before Harvey?
James Caldwell: Yeah, exactly.
Tim Carlson: And they couldn’t find jobs after?
Impact on Local Businesses [1:19:22]
James Caldwell: Exactly. And then these, these, these jobs a lot of them, a lot of companies were not able to re-open after Harvey. Now these small businesses aren’t open for business.
Tim Carlson: We’re talking short term or permanently?
James Caldwell: Some permanent, some short term. But when you’re living basically from paycheck to paycheck you can’t afford that gap. You know, you cannot afford that. If you miss a month of paycheck or income that’s a major blow to you. You know I mean, the subsidy is fine. You know I mean, whatever the Red Cross gives you, as far as money, that doesn’t pay the rent, that doesn’t, you know, and your homeless. You know I mean your home has been devastated by Harvey. How do you get back in there? Now you live in there, you don’t have a job. You’re trying to take advantage of whatever resources are available to you and all these other elements taking their. What are they going to do about it? And you don’t know what to do or how to do it. And you know, and these are the things that I’ve seen and things that I see the despair. They shared it with me. They share the uncertainty. They share what they would like or what they may have to resort to doing because they don’t want to do it. So, of course, as a minister, a pastor, I try to consult and I try to, you know, guide them as best I can. You know and I talk about the specific call or whatever you may need and I’ll be willing if I know other resources that may help to do that but then, you know, as, as men and, you know, as families and things like, you know, they feel like they shouldn’t have to be dependent upon someone else especially when some are so devastated and that’s another of the psychological aspect of it. When we talked about they don’t the home but it’s in the family, you know, mom and dad passed on, they’re in the home, and now this disaster has occurred, FEMA has money and Red Cross has money and BakerRipley has money all these other, but all of them deny you. All of them, you know, and if it wasn’t for the grassroots organization coming in there to patch this up and do this here and do that there, then you lose it because, you know, in order to get BakerRipley money, FEMA money and all this other stuff you’ve got to turn flips, jump through hoops, sign this all sig that all, go spend money at the Bureau of Vital Statistics that you don’t have, you know, in order to get this document done to that document and the entity that will provide those resources to you is not often available because they got shut down as a result of Harvey and over a period of time we become disenfranchised and disinterested, you just don’t care anymore. So who’s dealing with those folks psychologically?
Homelessness Post-Harvey [1:22:24]
James Caldwell: You know, we haven’t touched on the homeless aspect out there. Those who already homeless and those who have become homeless. If you look under the bridge, one of the things that I’ve seen, going on that really disturbs me.
Tim Carlson: The bridge?
James Caldwell: Yeah, the bridge underneath the freeways in downtown.
Tim Carlson: You mean poor indigent. Not just.
James Caldwell: That pre-exists, yeah, exactly underneath the bridges. There are families underneath there with children. I should not see that. I mean.
Tim Carlson: And do you believe that has been increased because of Harvey?
James Caldwell: Because of Harvey. Definitely. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, well, and then second, it might be most of those on the bridges, you know, maybe there was some psychological, maybe some drug and alcohol abuse, maybe some criminal justice issues. These families don’t have none of that. They’re just homeless.
Tim Carlson: Do you as a pastor have any personal knowledge of some of these people that live here and are you stating?
James Caldwell: We’ve gotten two from underneath there.
Tim Carlson: But you’re saying these are not people that have psychological problems. They’re just displaced because of poverty?
James Caldwell: That’s right, exactly. You know they were in a home. They with mom. Dad’s home. Mom and dad passed on, I’m the only son, you know, they didn’t pass it down in my name on the deed. So I just own it now, you know, through, you know, through paternal lineage of the family. And so it’s my home but it’s not in my name. You see I didn’t take time to do that. I didn’t do that. Just passed on. You know, we don’t. And that’s another aspect. Knowing the legal ramifications and, you know, titles and deeds and all that stuff that. Trying to educate our communities and what should be done to preserve what they already have but now when FEMA, I have a home. But it’s not simple. For me or my family. You know, I mean healthwise, you know, it’s not safe, the lights, the whackery, all of that, you know, the mold. All these.
Tim Carlson: This is going to seem like a simple question, but why can’t they get those houses fixed.
James Caldwell: Why can’t those individuals get?
Tim Carlson: The people that you describe.
Tim Carlson: First of all they’re, they’re pretty much living paycheck to paycheck. They don’t have the resources. Now I can’t work. Now, now as a result of Harvey I may be working at a job that pays pretty substantial. You know, Not very many have been able to afford that. But I don’t have any income. And then when I decide to go back to work. I’m goig to share a story that’s been shared with me. When I decide to go back to work the company decides to scale down so it can recoup some of its losses.
Tim Carlson: From Harvey.
James Caldwell: Yeah. So it scales down. And I’m a part of that layoff process. So now I’m a part of that layoff process and I’m the breadwinner. I understand we need a home but the house I live in is unlivable and unless I connect or have a grassroots resource that will come in and repair and rebuild or make my home livable again which I’ve been denied by FEMA and all these others what do I do?
Tim Carlson: So we have people, even people that have in the past may have been connected and had all their paperwork in order. The storm wipes it away. So they now have to go and restore those documents?
James Caldwell: And they can’t go to the courthouse because it got flooded. Okay, so it’s not open yet. You know, and it may not be open and you actually find that document for another month, six weeks, two months. But, if you still, the taxes are still do on it. You don’t have a job. If you’re buying the house the house note is still due on it. You don’t have a job. That doesn’t mean that you’re not trying to do day labor but that’s just going to feed your family. That’s not going to pay the bills or pay the house note. That’s just going to provide you know minimal means of survival. So now that begins to take an emotional and psychological toll on you. But where is that entity that’s going to address that? Doesn’t exist. I mean on the scale that it should exist. Now, okay you bring in food, you bring clothes, you bring in all these resources to help rebuild us. But what about the psychological aspect of it, the emotional aspect.
Tim Carlson: So do you have hope that this entity will change or come into existence in the future so this doesn’t happen again?
Efforts to Provide Support to Those Impacted by Harvey [1:27:17]
James Caldwell: Through C.O.C.O.’s efforts and my efforts as a minister and others, you know, we, we will offer that counseling. You know, to the best of our ability. You know we’ll try to encourage but on a scale. In other words to be able to talk to a family, or family member, or senior, or disabled, or even a teenager, a child, you know, and discover that there is a psychological impact that all these had on this individual. Who can you refer directly to?
Tim Carlson: Are you saying you don’t have anyone to refer to?
James Caldwell: We, We can go to the Harris County Mental Health Mental Retardation. Yes. You know, I mean, but I’m going to address, this is not considered a major issue for them. And are they prepared to address it on a scale that’s large enough that they can have a real impact on these individuals? You know we have seen one or two and we have. We’ve sent one or two to MHMRA. You know, I mean, but there are sixty that needs to go, I mean, or a hundred and fifty, or three hundred. You know, I mean, what I mean by that is healthwise, you know, you have it for drugs, you have it for cigarettes, you have it for sex and you have it for every other thing. I’m not saying it should be up for Harvey, I’m not saying that but, for the victims of Harvey something should be done to deal with that emotional, psychological impact. That would help the trauma. You know, because that’s, that’s what it is. Myself and others hadn’t seen nothing like this. As when, when, when I tell you we had to go into a home with not just regular mask, we’re talking about the one’s, that you know, hazard, hazmat. We provided training for that as well, but the hazmat mask, you know, and sometimes we have to put on the suits and this is in apartment complexes. You know where people live. And I just, and, and you see these things and the smell, you know, I mean all this stuff here. And you know nobody can live in that. We walked into homes, you know, I mean where, you know, unbelievable, you know. And in some of them some of these people were still living there. You know, so that’s.
Tim Carlson: Are they living in them now?
James Caldwell: No, no, no. We’ve managed to get that addressed. That was something, that was a health issue. I mean what we weren’t able to do, we were able to contact the Health Department to make sure that they addressed it. They may have took their time but even my organization and several letters, we, if we had to pay for a hotel room for a family we wouldn’t do that for a week. We wouldn’t do that. I mean because it was only going to create more health issues, more psychological issues.
Tim Carlson:You would pay for that?
James Caldwell: We did. Yes. We, we did. You know, sometimes it would be a week sometimes two weeks. You know, I mean so we could get someone to go in and clean it out.
Tim Carlson: But this was from private?
James Caldwell: Yeah, yes. Only from private.
The Challenges of Applying for Aid/Insurance Coverage [1:30:46]
Tim Carlson: To back up, you stated about the federal programs, that, clarify for me, it sounded like you said you couldn’t get them.
James Caldwell: Guidelines and restrictions. This is isn’t known fact. You know Harvey, they said it didn’t discriminate. Three fourths of the claims filed in northeast Houston were denied. And practically everyone in northeast Houston, from the fifth ward to Kashmere Garden to Denver Harbor to Settegast to Scenic Woods to Trinity Garden to Fontaine, Acres Home, all of that, East End and far southeast, I mean northeast Houston way far east northeast Houston, Mesa and Maxey Road area. Three fourths of that entire community was denied by F.E.M.A.
James Caldwell: So, the appeal process they tell you to do. And now in the appeal process you can file the appeal, but then you gotta do a, b, c, d, x, y, z. But you’re displaced. You don’t know where the paperwork is, where the document is. You can’t go downtown to get it because downtown is flooded. You know, I mean, so you can’t call this office and that office to get there. You can’t go on the computer and have just send you this, e-mail you that and all this stuff. So you, you’re just in this position where technology has failed you, but also the system itself has failed you. See, because you don’t, you cannot. You’ve been denied by FEMA then the city gets funding and things like that and several months later, six months, whatever, emergency funds. And it goes through BakerRipley and other entities, Red Cross and all these others. But now there are restrictions and guidelines. You know, you are already denied by FEMA and you can’t meet these restrictions, these guidelines. As a matter of fact, on the way over here, I was talking to a senior who has, and she has insurance and has had it for thirty years. And she filed this one claim to the roof and they’re not paying for it. They’re not going to do anything. She paid. Without missing a payment for thirty years, thirty plus years.
Tim Carlson: We’re talking standard insurance?
James Caldwell: Yeah. Allstate.
Tim Carlson:And why are they not paying?
James Caldwell: We don’t know. You know, we don’t, we don’t know.
Tim Carlson: Can you see this as?
James Caldwell: Now she’s become a part of the city’s program. We were able to get her some help from the city and the city is going to make Allstate pay for the work that they do. You know, she’s a senior, she’s disabled, she’s being taken advantage of. Yeah.
Tim Carlson: Is there a sense?
James Caldwell: It’s a pattern (laughter).
Tim Carlson: You use the word pattern. Is there a pattern? Or you perceive a pattern or sense that organizations know that when they’re dealing with people that are living paycheck to paycheck that if they just delay they’ll?
James Caldwell: Yeah. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. Exactly. And I think that process.
Tim Carlson: Do you, do you specifically, and from what you sense in the community, have a feel that people feel that this is actually happening, maybe even on purpose?
James Caldwell: Yeah. Now because the insurance company is the one. We’ve seen that pattern. We’ve seen it with landlords, okay, in apartment complex. They will fix an apartment complex, make it livable, then they’ll go up another fifty dollars on your rent. You know, I mean. We’ve seen it with BakerRipley and FEMA and all the others because they will tell you you need this and you need that. And they’re stringing you along for weeks and months and that’s why you become discouraged. You know, I mean, and then they’ll tell you that was such a great turnover as far as, what do they call them? These folks would go out invest, their not investigators, they call them some other things. They would go out and meet with the folks. Intakers. They did the intake. There was such a great turnover with these, initially, when FEMA and when BakerRipley and the others, you know, (garbled). Folks would tell me: ‘They came by and talked to me. That was a month ago and I haven’t heard from them since. And, see, I call every day. And then when I called back, someone says when I call back they say she no longer works here. He no longer is working here’ and this sort of thing, you know. So I think there’s a lot of money that was lost in administration. You know, trying to implement. This was a lot of money. And when it finally was available it wasn’t enough to address their needs.
Recovery Complicated by Systemic Racism [1:36:30]
Tim Carlson: So what does that do to the overall sense, in the community, of how they’re being treated? From the results of Harvey? Now you mentioned this before. Second class?
James Caldwell: Underserved. You know, I mean, underserved. Yeah, and they’re aware.
Tim Carlson: You mentioned racism before.
James Caldwell: Yes. Yes.
Tim Carlson: Does the community sense this as?
James Caldwell: Of course they do. Of course they do.
Tim Carlson: Not racism, but, not, maybe just, structural racism as it’s been in the past, but do they, how do they express it, is, do they?
James Caldwell: It’s expressed purely in the term of, they’re going to do what they want to do anyway. They being the, quote unquote, powers that be the, the ones who hold the purse strings. Their own political district, whether it would be with FEMA from a larger community nonprofit perspective or this from BakerRipley or Red Cross or what have you, you know, I mean they feel like their cries for need on a large scale, or from an individual scale, is not being addressed as the same or by the same means in which it was addressed, or it would be addressed if you were of a different culture. If you were a different race, if you were a different color. It doesn’t, it doesn’t exist. And you know we, they point out, you know, what we were aware of. You know, it’s been six months since Harvey and they’ve got everything everything in their houses have been repaired. They had insurance, and some didn’t have insurance, but they got their money’s and their homes are repaired. Now this is six months after Harvey, you know, I mean, and our homes are still the same. We’re still living in shelters. My sister live in a shelter up until about three, two months ago. My own sister, yeah (garbled). You know what I mean and she lost her home and she’s disabled and so is her husband. Now, I mean, and they’ve just got an apartment to stay in about two months ago. You know, I mean, this is, you know, we’re almost talking two years ago so you know it has a, they were flooded. And they lived up on a hill (laughter) and they still got high water there.
Tim Carlson: So, do you believe the sense in the community, because of events since Harvey, as a general, much greater, lack of trust in, and I’m putting in quotation marks here, in the system?
James Caldwell: They’ve, for decades, they’ve had a lack of trust in the system.
Tim Carlson: I understand that, but do you think it is the same as before or has it compounded or gotten less?
Community Cynicism Towards Involvement by the Government and Nonprofit Organizations [1:39:30]
James Caldwell: For the most part they see it as being status quo. Yeah, I mean, this, we, we’ve done this before we, you know, we’ve seen this movie and, and we know and what we’re trying to do, don’t accept that. Don’t accept that. You know, as grassroots organizations we’ll come in, we’re going to try to level some of that off, but don’t you accept that, and that’s why we try to rally and engage. And you mentioned something about organizations, as well as other entities, coming into the community (garbled) the community to hear the stories, you know, to, to know that someone has a willingness and desire. We’ve had this before. You know, we’ve, folks come in with groups and organizations, bells and the whistles and the lights and the flashes and all this stuff here going on you know, what, and when they leave all hope leaves with them. You know, I mean, but they’ve become a leech and they’ve siphoned from the community and by siphoning from the community they’ve left it a little bit more damaged than what it was initially.
Tim Carlson: Could you explain that a little more what you–
James Caldwell: Organizations come in and they offer.
Tim Carlson: Organizations being?
James Caldwell: Non-profits, non-profits. Yeah, they come in and they offer training opportunities, job opportunities. They’re offering, jobs, hope to a community for home buyers. You know, finances. All these things, here, all the bells and whistles and, and everything else, you know, and, and there are a lot of counseling and educational opportunities and certification to do this and certification to do that. And then the community gets excited, you know, and they go and be a part of it. You know they offer this resource, that resource and this opportunity and that opportunity and they go and they be a part of it, they’re excited about it and they get engaged, you know, I mean, some of them may spend some of their money, you know, to, you know, be a little bit more active and, and they may hire from the community and then in two or three months the doors close and their gone. Folks are left with no degrees, no jobs, you know. And this has been a pattern. And because it’s been a pattern their willingness to–
Tim Carlson: The people around you?
James Caldwell: Yeah, exactly to become on board with this movement, they come in. And that’s what, that’s what we’re facing. You know the willingness for them to become involved in the environmental movement through being a part in the criminal justice movement all these.
Tim Carlson: So because they’ve been burned…
James Caldwell: Yeah, yeah.
Tim Carlson: …they’re more reticent to get involved and come to the table at times now?
James Caldwell: Yeah, yeah. Reluctant, their reluctant. This lady told me, the thing about Miss Johnson, she told me, quite frankly, said I was in D.C. over the weekend. She said I was going to call because the city by. That’s where she just signed up. And said: ‘if my son hadn’t been here. I don’t understand I thought that they were going to take my house.’ You know, I mean, and this is money that she’s available to her up to $8,000, you know. But she’s, she’s, no one explains these things. So we had connected her to the city and they finally came out to her, you know, I mean, we told her they would be coming out but we had hoped to be there. Some one of us when they came. But unfortunately when they came I was out of town and what have you. But she was reluctant to do this. Something they were entitled to. Fear of being burned. She had already spent money on somebody going up to them and she has insurance.
Tim Carlson: Two more questions for you and then I’ll give you an opportunity for something else. One, if you can parse out a bit more for me. It seems you left out that these nonprofits come in and provide hope and you use the words ‘they use us.’ I believe something like that?
James Caldwell: Yeah.
Tim Carlson: What do you mean by ‘they’re using us’?
James Caldwell: Well, when these groups and organizations come in, first of all they don’t come in broke, okay. They have hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not halves of millions of dollars, and their coming to set up to hire maybe locally, to put a face on it, and what happened? And there’s a purpose for doing that to provide the resources or whatever. Most of that money’s, most of those resources are not fulfilled. The job opportunities, training opportunities, the connections, the resources, the educational opportunities. You know it’s never fulfilled. Well, that has been the practice in the past over decades. And so when they come in and that bitter taste is in your mouth to begin with, you know I’m skeptical about you to begin with, you know, I mean because of the bitter taste that already exists within my mouth from a community perspective. You know, I mean, so you’re really going to have to, and the problem with that is these organizations, groups even from a political perspective, if they want support and encouragement then they have to get personal. You know, what I do in the process of sharing information (garbled). I make it personal. It may not affect you but it may affect your wife. It may affect your children. It may affect your mom. And by doing so whatever resources that we’re going to provide through COCO or another nonprofit, they see now that I’m not concerned about elevating COCO, myself but that I have a genuine concern about them and their family. You know because it’s not about numbers to me. Yeah we do it because of the hunger.
Tim Carlson: So they’re using people because?
James Caldwell: It’s a numbers game. You know if I, if I, if I open up this place and I get ten people who will sign up for this.
Tim Carlson: And then I’m gone?
James Caldwell: Yeah, well look the objective is to get, in 30 days, to get 30 or 50 people signed up for a program. This program I got three, four different programs.
Tim Carlson: And, to be clear, we’re talking non-profits?
James Caldwell: Yeah, non-profits. Look, I’ve given or a government entity, our governments. You know, I mean, you’ve got hundreds of thousands of dollars, say a government entity, (garbled) hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now, I’ve told off trainings and classes and seminars and all this stuff. Okay. And I’ve got six months to do this. You know I got six months to do this. I hire, the whole thing. I open up and I get everybody excited for a month. You know, I mean, two months we start training. You know, but I’ve got hundreds of millions of dollars of buildings being paid for and all this stuff here. Now, and there’s an incentive for you to come and be a part of, maybe offer you a gift card or completing this or that. And job placement. All this above, all the above, even meals while you’re attending classes or getting a certification, all this stuff here. But one month, three or four months down the road the money’s gone. The money’s gone. I’ve paid this person from Idaho. Seventy five thousand dollars you know a month.
Tim Carlson: But, but the nonprofit continues?
James Caldwell: The nonprofit continues.
Tim Carlson: Okay.
James Caldwell: And that’s what, I would say the system will go back to our system. That’s what we’re basically addressing. The government entities that come in, you know, because these nonprofits meant to go in the community are always going to be in that community, you know, I mean, because that’s their base that’s just support mechanisms. There may be other outside entities that offer financial support but that’s their base basically.
Hurricane Harvey Ongoing, Recovery Continues [1:47:44]
Tim Carlson: The general view, the general view, I’ll interject my own opinion here, in the country is Harvey ended in, what you could get five days of rain. It was on the news for a month. And it’s over for large swaths of the city. I personally get the view that Harvey is over.
James Caldwell: (laughter)
Tim Carlson: I would like to ask you, obviously Harvey is still going on in the Fifth Ward. How long do you think Harvey will go on before for we have some time, when we say, its, the effects are passed?
James Caldwell: About the fifth or sixth day after the waters had gone down we saw the devastation and all. Me and several other non-profit members and preachers. We did a survey. We just rode around everywhere. Where we could get to, you know, I mean, and look at everything, all the devastation, you know, the loss and displacement of folks. And we came to consensus, a consensus, that, we’re looking at three to five years for people to be restored back, and we’re talking, I mentioned apartment complexes, but we’re talking about communities, homeowners wiped out. Gone. They haven’t left but they lost everything. You know, they lost everything. So now they’re trying to rebuild and replace their homes. They’re not trying to give it up. You know, I mean that they’re going to fight and struggle with it. So how long does it take to you, for you to replace everything that you lost? Thirty, forty years of trying to accumulate this, in some cases a lifetime. And you expect two years?
Tim Carlson: What about the psychological?
James Caldwell: Yeah, yeah, the psychological, emotional effects. That could be ongoing. That could be traumatic on the, anything could probably trigger that. Yeah, anything could probably trigger that. So. And, and those are factors that haven’t been addressed. The most people who say that and, and that’s part of the narrative. You know the narratives that, help happens all the time. Come and ride with me, I’ll show you some, I’ll show you some that we’re actually are doing. So it’s not a question of what we’re doing, or if we’re doing it, or if Harvey is gone or any of the above. No, we know Harvey exists and we know that there are still issues that we’re having to address concerning Harvey. And we have the pictures to prove it (laughter). Now, but this is just stuff that the local, I mean the national and a, what do you call it, perspective. A non-profit, I mean not nonprofit. A city, county perspective that folks don’t get. This is Mr. Boudreaux’s home. We’re working. We got a ramp on it. I’ve got, this is the new pictures. (At this point James Caldwell began flipping through photographs on his cell phone.) We should be done, probably, in a couple of weeks. Yeah. This has been a two month project. This is what it looks like now on the inside. Work is constant. This is one of several. But I want to show you what, this is his restroom and bathroom, all that stuff there. I’m going on down a bit further and show you what it looked like before. I got it in here too. It’s so much junk in there. Okay, alright, where you at Mr. Boudreau. These are events, and all that, I have Mr. Boudreau. That’s in Atlanta at the, what do you call it, conference. I want to show you Mr. Boudreau’s house. I have some others in here there is so much stuff in here. Galveston, I did not know I had this one. But I wanted to give you an indication of what is taking place. When we talk, and these are recent, this is not something that, you know.
Tim Carlson: The work you’re doing here in these pictures are recent?
James Caldwell: Yeah. This is within the last three months, six months. And that’s three months I just saw with him. Mr. Boudreau where’d he go. I don’t think I did all that, I think I’m getting past it right there.
Tim Carlson: Well, I’ll tell you what.
James Caldwell: No, no, I’m going to show it to you. No go ahead and talk.
Tim Carlson: I want to ask you one more thing of you, and if you don’t mind, would you mind sharing those pictures with us?
James Caldwell: No, no, not at all.
Tim Carlson: Is there, in the next couple of minutes, anything else that you would like to address about your Harvey experience or the experience in the third, fifth ward, sorry, hat we haven’t addressed here, or that you would like to?
James Caldwell: Like most people, you know, we hope and pray that there’s never another Harvey, you know, but the reality of, of it is that we know that there will be, you know, I mean, maybe not in my lifetime, you know, I don’t know exactly when, but we know that there will be another Harvey. How are we going to deal with that? This is Miss Johnson, the lady I was telling you about her home. Okay, she had this.
Tim Carlson: Holes in the roof?
James Caldwell: Yes, holes in the roof and this is her restroom, water came all the way up to here and it took away her tile.
Tim Carlson: These pictures are from when?
James Caldwell: Let’s see.
Tim Carlson: Recently.
James Caldwell: Within the last four months, see.
Tim Carlson: So, we’re not talking right after Harvey. We’re talking a year and a half after Harvey.
James Caldwell: September 25th, 2018. And this is, we’ve done this. It’s completed. This is completed. I have pictures of that.
Tim Carlson: So, y’all have done this?
James Caldwell: Yeah, I’m trying.
Tim Carlson: Because she didn’t get help from anyone?
James Caldwell: Yeah. Her insurance company, all them folks that we just got through talking about.
Preparing for the Future [1:54:22]
Tim Carlson: So do you wanted to finish up on anything else that–
James Caldwell: As I was saying we know it’s going to happen again. I would like to, and working with different organizations and groups we’re trying to establish an equity component of, and disaster preparedness to the next event, disaster that occurs when money is made available that is implemented on a equity from an equity perspective. You know one’s ability to be able to achieve. The analogy I gave about the two boys on the bottom. It’s not that they didn’t want to see the game, you know, the analogy I gave about my definition of equity is just that they didn’t have the ability. You know, they will still short in stature.
Tim Carlson: So you help give them that ability?
James Caldwell: Yeah. Exactly. Give them that ability so they can be a part of it. You know we want to be able to alleviate and eliminate the pain. You know the misery. The, the hopelessness, you know.
Tim Carlson: Not only for what’s going on now but for the next time?
James Caldwell: For the next, exactly. You know we want people to hope, you know, as, as a preacher, you know, scriptures tell me that without vision the people perish, you know, and they can envision a brighter future or a better future, change, that there’s no, they don’t have to live in fear and operate in fear that the game’s over. They’ve already lost. You know, and trying to instill within them that hope and rebuild and renew and restore them back to wholeness so that they can become engaged and be a part of it. You know from a psychological perspective, from a financial perspective, you know, wholeness. You need to cover all the bases to make a person whole and that’s a, that’s a difficult task because this, this community along with a lot of other communities, not just here in Houston but across the country, you know, have been fractured, you know, and some of that the community has contributed to. Some of that has been a result of redlining and redistricting and all of the above. You know, so, but educating and informing the people about the simple fact that the struggle is real and they need to become a part of it and engage because, you know, one, one thing that I liked about the previous president’s statements that he’s made was that we are the change we seek. If you want to change things, you want to change the effect that Harvey had on this community and for how long, healthwise and housing all these others, you don’t, you can expect or rely on the county or the city to do it. They work for you. So, so you are the change you see. And that’s what we try to feel, that sense of power within the community itself. Build that power base within because if there is to be change and you want to see change or you want, whatever it is that you desire. You have the power. They have the money, they have the power but you have the numbers. Because you have the numbers you can bring about change, you know, to benefit you. That’s what I would really want to try to instill within the community. Because it’s not, we have enough issues to begin with (laughter). You know, I mean, in our community but understanding who your real, I don’t want to use the term enemy, but where you’re real opposition comes from. Understanding that, you know, and, and being able to understand that you already have the victory. You know, but you can’t do it alone. You know, you as a unified group mass can overcome these obstacles. You have to want to do it. Yeah, and you have to make it, I have to have a genuine care and concern and compassion not about you but everything there is about you. You, your family, your children, you know, your health, your safety, your well-being, your role, you know, where you live. You know, I mean, the air you breathe. You know, the food you eat. You know, (garbled) I have to have that same compassion. You know, and this exceeds, this is a world perspective. You know I have to look beyond race. I have to look beyond nationality. I have to look at all, you know, my cliques and all that stuff there. I have to go beyond that because that’s a world perspective and it’s only then that we’ll really have peace. You know, and that as the scriptures say that surpasses all understanding (cheerful laughter).
Tim Carlson: Thank you so much for helping us with our oral history project.
James Caldwell: Not a problem, not a problem. I appreciate it.