No Rest for the Weary: Hurricane Harvey and Its Effects on People with Disabilities in Beaumont, Texas

by Hannah Colletti, The Arc of Greater Beaumont

People with Disabilities Affected by Hurricane Harvey

Some of the clients and providers staying at The Arc of Greater Beaumont pose for a picture in front of boxes of generous donations.

The flooding in Beaumont was unprecedented. Slowly, one by one, different sections of the city took on water. Some flooded during the days of seemingly ceaseless rain. Others flooded days after the storm, when the sun had finally come out, but when the bayous and rivers began to crest. Among the masses of those affected were people with disabilities. When one group home flooded, clients took shelter in another, until eventually a majority of homes had been damaged. Without a place to go, The Arc of Greater Beaumont offered refuge in their building. Chapter staff and their board scrambled to find air mattresses, pop up tables, and folding chairs to make people as comfortable as possible, as residents of five flooded group homes took refuge.

People saved what they could carry. John, a 21-year-old regular client of The Arc of Greater Beaumont with cerebral palsy, had a change of clothes, an extra pair of tennis shoes, a computer bag, a heat pack to help ease the recurring pain in his shoulder, and a single framed portrait of his family. He had lived in a group home in Bevil Oaks since December of last year, but unfortunately, it was almost completely underwater. Without a house to return to here in Beaumont, he feared he would be transferred to a home two hours away in Lufkin, which would put him farther from his family, his girlfriend, and his community.

The stress on clients and providers alike was palpable. Simple tasks like taking medicine became difficult due to the scarcity of water. No laundry facilities or showers were available, so providers were hand washing clothes and setting up sponge baths with what little water they could spare. Clients felt cramped. Though the space was accommodating, there was little more than a few feet between beds. Sleep was hard to come by for some, who were easily kept up by movement and noise.

Amidst the challenges, help came from our fellow chapters of The Arc from across the country, which sent supplies to help the Beaumont area. The Arc of Colorado, The Arc of Aurora, and The Arc Thrift Stores in Colorado crafted a plan to support The Arc of Greater Beaumont. Von Limbaugh, a member of The Arc of Colorado’s board of directors, reached out. Von and his son Andrew packed up a truck, loaded with 400 pounds of clothing from The Arc Thrift Stores, supplies from members of The Arc from across the state, water, food, baby supplies, medical supplies, cleaning supplies, and toiletries and they started to drive. Staff from chapters across the country were calling our executive director, offering anything to be helpful. We collected and organized donations and have been distributing them to those in need. The absence of a full kitchen made it hard to cook hot meals, yet still hot meals came from private individuals within the community. Board members for our chapter arrived with gallons of water and fresh produce. The organizations that ran the group homes did their best to fix and find spaces for their clients, and fortunately within a few days, everyone had a more stable solution to their housing needs.

Our community is still adjusting to the reality of life after this cataclysmic event. People with disabilities served by our chapter and the group homes are a part of this community figuring out how to recover. Their housing and day to day routine has changed greatly, and they’ve lost much of what has long been familiar to them. The Arc of Greater Beaumont has received numerous pleas to host events so these citizens can have a slight return to normalcy. Like any other non-profit or small business in our region, our bottom line has been impacted by this event. Thanks to the spirit of the greater Beaumont community, we have faith we will endure this hardship. And our hearts are full thanks to the generosity of our very special chapter network. We truly are a family.