Broken Home, Broken Heart, Unbroken Hope

Despite all he has gone through in life, Mal, 66, has never lost hope. His willingness to ask for help and gathering the confidence to speak out have always been gifts for him.

Like tens of thousands in the Houston area, Mal’s house was damaged after the waters of Hurricane Harvey seeped through his foundation- sinking it, and severely destroying the walls, flooring and insulation. Electricity and plumbing were broken. Mold grew quickly in the heat.

It took almost two years for Mal to finally receive the help he had been looking for. As volunteers from the Episcopal Diocese of Texas and West Street Recovery were cutting and installing dry wall in the Texas heat, Mal glanced back at the house and looked down at the ground with his favorite phrase, “It could have been worse.”

Mal, shared the house where he grew up with his now 95-year-old mother. After Harvey, Mal’s mother moved out and moved in with Mal’s sister. Mal stayed in the broken house and moved what he could save into a tiny room in the back.

Mal is a black man who grew up in the 60’s. He has lived some of the turbulent history of race relations in America. He has known what it is like to be unwelcome, to have his life threatened. He has lost one sibling to a police shooting and another to diabetes. By his own admission, he has crossed the line with his own rage, his failed relationships and his broken heart. He has worked with his hands all his life in construction work and as a car mechanic. He has seen more than one hurricane. Now his body is broken with severe health problems. He didn’t have the money or the materials or the tools to fix his own house.

What Mal has left intact is his ability to speak and his own willingness to ask for help. Mal started talking.  He spoke with FEMA. He filled out forms. He asked for help. He was turned down. “Pre-existing problems” he was told. He was told the house didn’t break during the storm even though Mal heard the bones of his house splinter and crack around him.

“I thought I and the house would die that night.” And then he shakes off the memory and says again, “I’m a blessed man. It could have been worse.” The rejection by FEMA broke his heart, but not his spirit.

On behalf of his mother, his neighbors and himself, Mal kept talking. He talked from the mayor’s office in Houston to the Texas Legislature in Austin to government officials in Washington, D.C. Applications for assistance are often rejected because the forms are difficult to manage. Documents to prove identity and ownership may have been lost in the flooding and not easily replaced. There are also complex issues about land ownership, debt, and access to credit.  Waiting for acceptance or rejection usually takes months.

A group called West Street Recovery came into existence during the first days of Hurricane Harvey, beginning with rescue operations out of a kayak. West Street Recovery co-founders, Andrew Cobb, Cavanaugh Nwezi, Leah Ayer, Alycia Miles and Ben Hirsch recruited volunteers and supplies to help the most vulnerable survivors of Harvey. Ben heard about Mal and took on the challenge of Mal’s broken house. Forming partnerships for funding and volunteers from throughout the state, Ben also was joined by the Hurricane Recovery staff of Episcopal Diocese of Texas to rebuild Mal’s house into a home that would be safe, sanitary and functional again.

Mal wants to bring his mother back home as one last gift to let her die in the home that she owns. Mal’s health reminds him that he, too, will die and that he would like to die in the home he grew up in, eating his mother’s yeast rolls and laughing with the neighbors.

Two years after Harvey, with the help of strangers and friends like West Street Recovery and the Episcopal Diocese of Texas Hurricane Recovery, Mal’s broken home is being made whole.

Tens of thousands of families still need help.  Will you join us and help transform a family’s hope into a safe family home?

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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