The following article originally appeared in the Winter 2005 edition of the TRLA Times.
The fallout of Hurricane Katrina made significant, unprecedented demands of nonprofits across Texas entrusted to protect and help the poor – and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid was no exception. The faces of displaced New Orleans residents walking for miles along empty state highways desperately searching for food, water, and rescue called for a renewed examination of social justice for the poor.
In Texas, TRLA saw thousands of Katrina evacuees pour into the major metropolitan areas of Austin, Corpus Christi, El Paso, and San Antonio, as well as the smaller communities of Del Rio, Laredo and Port Aransas. City and state officials quickly directed resources to address evacuees’ needs as the American Red Cross and other relief agencies raced to meet the increasing demand for humanitarian aid.
But as the weeks went by, evacuees realized they needed more than short-term
financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They needed help applying for Medicaid benefits for their children. They needed help securing housing. They needed help appealing FEMA and insurance companies’ decisions that refused to cover their losses. They needed protection from opportunistic landlords trying to take advantage of them. And they needed the money they had earned before the hurricane hit. They needed legal aid. And TRLA responded.
Katrina: A Statewide Look
Just three months after Hurricane Katrina made landfall, TRLA has opened more than 600 cases for hurricane evacuees. TRLA staff in multiple offices statewide – from El Paso to Corpus Christi – visited local area shelters, helping evacuees access the legal rights and remedies available to them through the justice system. “Katrina has demonstrated once again that legal aid is essential for disaster survivors,” said TRLA Executive Director David Hall. “Our efforts to help evacuees secure housing, obtain public benefits, and appeal FEMA denial of benefit decisions give them a real opportunity to rebuild their lives.”
Tomorrow: Taking a look at the organizations that came together to work with and support TRLA’s efforts to help Katrina survivors….