Rebuilding Houston: Tech Tools Connect a City to Shelter, Food, & More

Houston—The storm waters from Harvey have nearly receded. Now, the painstaking work of rebuilding lives is underway.

As the storm made landfall, Houston’s tech community—anchored by civic tech group Sketch City and the Station Houston co-working space—jumped in quickly to build tech tools to help rescue people from flooded homes and connect them to shelter and supplies. Now that the chatter on the #harvey Slack channel is down to a handful of messages, many of the city’s techies have shifted gears. They’re adapting websites, Google documents, and textbots into portals that can offer more long-term assistance.

Namely, this means connecting the displaced with the millions of dollars in aid and donations that have come in from around the country. People without homes don’t have laptops and Wifi to complete FEMA’s online application for assistance. Hotel vouchers for temporary shelter must be printed. Evacuees living in shelters in other parts of Houston or in other cities wonder which school district should their children be enrolled in?

“There is a big pile of aid that we have right now,” says Denise Hamilton, founder and CEO of WatchHerWork in Houston. “But if you’re someone who’s looking for help, it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack to find what you need.”

So Hamilton—along with Enventure co-founder Will Clifton and fellow members of life sciences group Enventure—created, a website through which a displaced person can request help and volunteers and donors can offer it. A group of counselors and sociologists respond to each online request, calling people to figure out each individual’s situation and directing them to agencies that can help, Hamilton says.

The technology here is not what would be described as cutting edge. Still, Hamilton says, for many people—especially those in poorer neighborhoods—the site is a crucial connection to the millions of dollars available from the Red Cross or funds raised by Houston Texan J.J. Watt and Dell founder (and Houston native) Michael Dell.

“What this is is an on-ramp and connection tool to resources,” she says. “We don’t take any money; we’re not collecting goods.”

Those with flooded-out homes have lost nearly everything; there have requests for glasses and contacts, orthopedic shoes, or a ride to the Texas Department of Public … Next Page »

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