Fri November 8, 2013
Nearly 200 Austin Students Are Homeless Because of Onion Creek Flooding
The floods last Thursday in Onion Creek and Dove Springs damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 homes, displacing families – many of them with children.
Bene Jacobs, her partner Lawrence, and their three children are one such family. They were rescued from the roof of her neighbor's home.
“My five year old was holding my 16 month old on top of the roof," she says.
While her family is okay, her home has been condemned.
“All of the walls are buckled and the tree fell on top of the roof so they said it’s no longer safe to enter the premise, so it’s fenced off," she says.
They’re staying with relatives until they can find more permanent housing. Her top priority is finding her disabled son a wheelchair. Without one, it’s impossible for him to get around.
The Austin School District uses a program called Project Help to assist homeless students. It provides services like free lunch and transportation. By Thursday, the program had identified nearly 200 students who were left homeless by the floods. The students were spread across 13 area public and charter schools and also in other nearby school districts like Del Valle. About 40 more students live in homes that were damaged.
Project Help provides services for the rest of the academic year, or until the student is no longer homeless.
The Family Resource Center at Mendez Middle School is also providing services to families who have lost everything. Director Leonor Vargas says they’ve found families split among different households as they try to find a new home. Yesterday, one student came into the center crying about the situation.
“He says, 'the most hardest part is I’m not with my family. I’m staying with some relatives, my sister is with friend, my mom is with somebody else, my father is with someone else,'" Vargas says. "So basically this family that was really strong together is now all in different homes.”
She says many children want help getting jobs so they can help repair their home, or find a new one.
“This child is only 12-years-old and he’s trying to figure out how to get enough money together for a deposit," Vargas says.
She says the trauma of the floods is also apparent.
“It starts to rain and the kids think, 'How bad is it going to get?' I mean, even myself as staff, when it started to rain the other night it woke me up and I thought, ‘Oh please, not again.’”
All of this makes it difficult for students to focus in school and engage with teachers and students.
“They’re really not ready to talk. They’re like, ‘Wait I’m back at school, what happened? How did this all come to happen?’ It’s frightful for them," says Ana Montoya, a fifth grade teacher at Perez Elementary. Teachers and social workers say right now, their focus is creating a sense of normalcy through school.
Meanwhile, one week after the floods, Bene Jacobs is slowly beginning to rebuild her life. Her daughter has returned to school at Perez where she’s coping with everything through drawing. Her son has been fitted for a new wheelchair, and she hopes he can return to his school soon.
Turning the Corner