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Aug 21, 2019 | EDOT Staff

Listening to the Voiceless Before and After Harvey

“We serve because everyone belongs” has always been the mission of St. Paul’s/San Pablo, Houston. In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, those who were already walking alongside the poor, homeless, abused, elderly and disabled are the champions of their disaster recovery.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, it is clear that those with the least voice before the storm were the least heard after it.

To come inside the gravitational pull of the Rev. Ed Gomez, Vicar of St. Paul/San Pablo, is to learn to listen at the speed of a hurricane force wind. Bespectacled, warm, paddling like a duck quickly underwater, cool, good humored and confident, Gomez pulls you into the fast-moving current which is the nature of his mission.  

When asked how his congregation was impacted by Hurricane Harvey, Gomez almost laughed.  “Everyone was affected! Everyone!” he said.

He did not draw a line of distinction between the people in his pews and the people outside the church doors. Everyone belongs. Gomez speaks with compassion for the elderly poor, the homeless, the sex worker, the refugee, the immigrant, the sick, the abused, the angry and the frightened. Everyone was impacted. Everyone needs help. Everyone is needed.

Basic human needs such as food, physical and mental health care, safety and employment, are daily challenges for everyone who lives in the church’s community. Twice a week, up to 80 homeless people are fed, offered a shower and provided assistance to fill out forms for resources at St. Paul/San Pablo.

For the homeless, Hurricane Harvey has meant services are spread thin and, in some cases, have completely evaporated. Gomez also soon discovered that the impact on mental health for those who came to his congregation took a toll of their daily lives. Getting them help became indispensable.

Gomez worked tirelessly to bring a licensed, bilingual, bicultural behavioral health counselor to his church. He noticed that individuals and families in the region were trying to make ends meet under pre-existing systemic pressures that were made heavier by the storm, and they needed help. For behavioral health services to succeed in this context, trust is vital, and cultural competence was non-negotiable.

Thanks to generous grants from Episcopal Relief & Development and the Bishop Quin Foundation, the Diocese of Texas Hurricane Recovery program stepped up to fund this unique disaster recovery program at St. Paul’s/San Pablo.

Licensed professional counselor, Marisol Salgado, has earned the trust of the members of St. Paul’s/San Pablo. Word of mouth referrals are increasing, a sign that she and her professional services have gained acceptance.

Salgado knew that the stigma of seeking help for mental issues would prevent people from reaching out unless she found ways to bring awareness of her programs.

She offers easy-to-attend classes on everyday stresses such as talking with your children or dealing with anger. Salgado is willing to share aspects of her own mental health journey so others may see mental health care as normal and good. She is smartphone-savvy and is planning to start a podcast called “Let’s Talk!” to expand her message of good mental health for a hurting community.

Additionally, individual counseling sessions are now being offered at San Mateo, Bellaire and San Pedro, Pasadena.

But Gomez and Salgado know that all stories do not end well. The death toll of disasters doesn’t include those whose lives are lost from actions prompted by post-disaster trauma. This church has the reputation as a safe place, so they have borne witness to heartbreaking episodes of physical abuse and violent death which shatter families forever.

Trust is a golden resource during and after disasters of all kinds, and trust is hard to build in a moment of crisis, but the team of Gomez and Salgado knows how to “love kindness and walk humbly.” Loving your neighbors and being a trusted neighbor before a disaster is the life-saving raft to recovery after a disaster. 

 

The Episcopal Diocese of Texas, through its partnership with Episcopal Relief & Development, is reaching out to assist families for whom conventional disaster recovery mechanisms fall short. Contact the Hurricane Recovery team at

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