Melissa Noriega is the wife of State Rep. Rick Noriega. She served as State Rep for their district in his place this session while he was serving in Afghanistan with the Texas Army National Guard. She sent me the following email about what is going on at the George R. Brown Convention Center, where Rick Noriega has been site commander since Friday:
My husband, Rick Noriega, humble public servant and state rep extrordinaire, has managed once again to blow even me away. You all really should see what God, Mayorbill and Col. Rick Noriega have wrought.
The GRB is organized, orderly and automated. When the folks arrived, we cheered and clapped for them, whisked away their dirty clothes while they showered, and got them squared away. The moms get queen sized air mattresses and the single men cots,seniors whichever is easiest, in different areas, separated by police and National Guard walking around being very present and very nice. Everyone gets a blanket and a pillow, and if they ask, they can have a second one. The sheets are clearly donated and the floor of the GRB is a sea of quilt squares and out-of-style stripes. The generous people of Houston reached into their linen closets and made up the visitors' beds.
There is a chow hall. It is set up with round tables and chairs in groups. There are handwashing stations set up everywhere, with the hand gel to kill germs--so far the group is pretty healthy. There are port-a-potties tucked away from everyone. There is bottled water everywhere. The guests (that's what they are called--NOT refugees or victims) sit down and eat, with plasticware and napkins. There is a schedule for meals, and lots of food lines, so folks don't have to stand long.
Upstairs there is a ballroom set up with TWO FULL SIZE park gyms set ups for the children. (Thanks to Parks and Rec.) With chopped rubber chips underneath. If parents need to leave the kiddos to do paperwork or med stuff, they get a wristband that matches the kids and the volunteers will watch them while they play with the toys donated, again by the wonderful people of Houston.
The middle ballroom is a TV room, with CNN and Fox going--these folks are needing info and news. As I stood in the doorway, a woman pointed at the screen and began to cry. There was a volunteer holding a fat-cheeked baby on her shoulder. The mother said she had been under the bridge up on the TV at that moment for 6 days, holding this fat baby until she thought she couldn't hold him one more minute. She said when she got to GRB, a vounteer held the baby until she could shower and put on fresh clothes. She said she waded out from her house to the bridge with her son and two others in a laundry basket over her head while the water was up to her chin. She was terrifed that she would hit a hole and she and the three babies would all drown.
The third ballroom is a library, with carrels of books, games and activites and a reading area. They just set up a computer lab there, so anyone can check websites or their email. There are also some computers for the older kids. The Parks folks set up both the park room and the library and have done an amazing job with a VERY small crew.
There is a command center, where they are building automated programs to figure out how many beds are left, how many folks they have and who they are. CenterPoint (our Electric Utility and Rick's company) and Second Baptist executives, as well as the City of Houston, folks are front and center, with a smattering of Marathon Oil folks doing the IT stuff with a guy from a mangement consulting firm who is our brother-in-law, Jerry Weisenfelder. He was here all Sat nite automating the whole record system. Incredible. I saw Dave McClanahan, the head of CenterPoint, VP Tom Standish, Jeff Cohen, the editor of the Chron and a Sr. VP of Marathon, all volunteering--checking in guests, ushering folks to their spot, working on the IT systems. It was extraordinary.
Mayor White gave Rick what he needed and the authority to do it. Every hour a new challenge arises and they march through it--the Rodeo folks showed up to help, and they got handed the transportation needs--getting families back together, getting people to other locations--and anyone who has been to the Rodeo know what geniuses they are at moving people! Thanks HLSR!
There is a hospital--with mobile vans for dental and X-ray. (Thanks to UTMB and Mike McKinney.) There is a full size pharmacy (thanks to CVS), with security and staff. All of it has been built in 48 hours.
The City of Houston, CenterPoint, all the hundreds of volunteers, Second Baptist (the "2nd" folks are VERY sharp--Pastor Young lent at least three command staff level folks who are incredible.) The George Brown staff are brilliant and handling hairy things, like med hazardous waste and moving huge groups of people with great competence and a lovely attitude. The fancy Hilton next door is washing the guest clothes and returning them, as well as washing soiled linens. LOTS of babies and very small children. Lots of
The fire dept. folk, HPD--all are performing at max with a great attitude. I haven't even begun to name all the groups and individuals that deserve kudos, but there is what amounts to a city under the roof of Houston's George Brown Convention Center, and everyone has done an incredible, magnificent job. I am beyond proud of my husband, grateful to God for the attitude and help everyone has provided, impressed with the City of Houston folks and just downright amazed at what has been done so quickly and so well. Next - school. That stuff starts tomorrow.
This is NOT a permanent solution for these folks--a shelter is not housing, but Houston has risen to the task and has been magnificent. Please remember that this will not be over tomorrow when the news cameras go away and everyone goes back to work. We will need to work this hard to get these folks hooked up with opportunites to work and live again.
Pray for everyone down here--God bless,