How to Help the Neediest Harvey Victims, Wherever You Live

Yves here. Since I have urged readers to chip in to take on Google and other monopolists that are big contributors to rising inequality and flagging growth, I thought it was also important to encourage you to give to people in immediate need, namely, Hurricane Harvey victims.

I’m particularly bothered to see the American Red Cross again taking advantage of this disaster to hoover up funds, when its track record, particularly with Hurricane Sandy, was dreadful. Bare bones Occupy Sandy put the Red Cross to shame.

Even worse, the Red Cross refused to come clean about its spending after Hurricane Sandy in the wake of a ProPublica probe. And worse, most people do not understand that the Red Cross has a monopoly position which allows it to impede the efforts of more effective organizations. As we wrote in 2014:

It’s not clear what to make of an attorney general who opens an investigation and then accepts lame excuses for maintaining secrecy from its target, in this case, the American Red Cross. We’re flagging this example because it exemplifies an effort by organizations to use “trade secrets” as a pretext for hiding more and more of their dealings with governments. This is absurd, since the premise of Federal and state Freedom of Information Act laws is that government records should be open to the public, and that includes records of entities doing business with government agencies. In other words, if you want to have government bodies as your customers, one of the costs of doing business is having your formal interactions with them subject to public review.

The Red Cross has come under repeated criticism for poor performance at its core mission, disaster relief. The charity has an unusual quasi-public role by virtue of obtaining a Congressional charter in 1905 develop a system of emergency relief and disaster prevention. Thus, the Red Cross, as a charity, has long been a monopoly provider of national first/early responder services. No other charity has a similar stature or scope. While the Red Cross also receives a limited amount of funding from FEMA, the far more important aspect of its relationship with government is the considerable prestige and competitive advantage it has gained through its charter, which it had obtained through able performance under its founder Clara Barton in providing assistance in major calamities in the 19th century, such as the Great Fire of 1881 and the Jonestown Flood of 1889. The Red Cross also has a formal role in conjunction with FEMA in providing “mass care, emergency assistance, temporary housing” and other services.

Proof of the Red Cross’ de facto monopoly position comes through the fact that there is no organization to take over its role as its performance has faltered. The Red Cross was criticized for slow responses and waste of funds in 9/11 and Katrina. Congress forced governance changes on the Red Cross in 2007, but that was insufficient to lead to better results in Hurricane Sandy. As New York City readers may know, Occupy Sandy ran rings around the Red Cross in the hardest-hit areas here, particularly Staten Island.

Slate published a richly-deserved criticism of the American Red Cross earlier this week. Consider this paragraph:

ARC was roundly blasted in the U.S. for its shambolic response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, with international observers warning that elements were so bad that they verged on criminal wrongdoing. Seven years later, despite an internal retooling effort, it failed again in 2012’s Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Isaac. (The response was “worse than the storm,” one Red Cross driver told ProPublica during its jaw-dropping investigation.) Typically, the organization has had more success responding to small-scale disasters; it’s common to hear stories people tell of the blankets and compassion they got from Red Cross volunteers after house fires. But even there, they’ve been getting into trouble: ARC’s 2015 response to a string of northern California wildfires was so bad—showing up unequipped and unprepared, shutting down other volunteer operations, and then failing to provide promised food or shelter on its own—that locals shunned the organization to focus on their own relief efforts.

Yet today (and I hardly leave my apartment), I was subjected to two American Red Cross pitches, one in a cab ride on the way to a routine doctor’s appointment, another when I went to a Duane Reade (now part of Walgreen’s) which also had an ask for the American Red Cross at the time of payment.

By Liz Posner, an associate editor at AlterNet. Her work has appeared on, Bust, Bustle, Refinery29, and elsewhere. Follow her on Twitter at @elizpos. Originally published at Alternet

It’s no surprise that those hardest hit by the hurricane that’s ripped across Texas over the past few days are poor, non-white, elderly, sick, and disenfranchised—basically, the people who’ve always needed extra help to get by, but who are now in true peril. Everything from disability to proximity to toxic gases being emitted by flooded oil refineries makes it a far greater challenge for these individuals to cope with the effects of the storm.

While the internet fumes over Joel Osteen’s role or lack thereof in the crisis, the unsung heroes who have had the most impact saving lives during Harvey include the same thankless groups that have always been doing the important work that needs to get done to transform and empower poor communities.

Texas Organizing Project is one such group. The 503c nonprofit organization, which advocates for the poor across the state, just launched the Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund to crowdsource donations for those most affected by the storm. Proceeds will go to first response, medical attention, healthcare, housing, and immigration services for the nearly 550,000 people living in poverty in Houston.

“It’s unfortunate, but we know that our most vulnerable communities will be the hardest hit and will not get the resources needed unless we fight for it, unless we organize those communities to demand justice,” the organization posted on Facebook on Monday.

Since 2009, Texas Organizing Project has used grassroots community and electoral organizing to push through reforms that strengthen poor communities, including convincing the state and local government to divert more funds to low-income Houston neighborhoods after Hurricane Ike to boost revitalization. Other past wins include raising voter engagement, persuading city officials in San Antonio to invest more money in safe streets and to clean up a toxic abandoned power plant in Houston, and launching a pilot program to reform school disciplinary programs that have contributed to the school-to-prison pipeline.

If you’re sitting at home safe and dry, wondering how you can help people in Texas right now, consider donating to the Hurricane Harvey Community Relief Fund. Rest assured, you’ll be helping those who need it the most. You can make a contribution here.

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