As Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury upon the Gulf Coast of the United States, Americans and the rest of the world watched the newscasts in shock. Instead of an earthquake or tsunami striking nameless and faceless people in a distant land, disaster had struck our own shores. The enormity of the destruction, the total devastation, and the overwhelming human suffering left many of us numb. Questions loomed in our minds: "How could something like this happen in the US?" "How could we as Americans have allowed our own neighbors to suffer so completely?"
Following the initial chaotic days of Hurricane Katrina, Americans mobilized with compassion and generousity in responding to those in need, rescuing families forced from their homes and planning for reconstruction. As part of these efforts, SFL was called to launch its first domestic recovery program. Relying on our expertise in shelter, disaster mitigation, and community-based projects, SFL and our partners have designed a creative and sustainable reconstruction plan to rebuild communities and restore the lives of families devastated by the deadly storms.
When disaster strikes, there is an enormous surge of energy all over the country to help our neighbors in need. Unfortunately, much of this energy is lost or misdirected because of the lack of a clear strategy or coordination plan. In response to the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Shelter For Life International (SFL) has launched a domestic recovery pilot project to assist hurricane victims. This project empowers churches and community-based organizations (CBOs) to demonstrate God's love by working together to rebuild houses for low-income and vulnerable families whose homes were severely damaged by the disaster. SFL's strategy can be implemented within the church or CBO's own community utilizing their members' resources, skills, and expertise.
Currently, SFL and various partners are involved in a pilot project to develop a comprehensive "how to" plan which covers all aspects of the process, including a step-by-step manual with housing plans, technical specifications, bill of materials, check lists, quality control forms, etc. We are thankful to the partnering organizations that have chosen to participate in the pilot project, including: FLAD & Associates, churches in Mansfield, OH, and Oshkosh, WI, and the Mennonite Disaster Service.
FLAD & Associates is a major architectural and engineering firm with offices nationwide. The FLAD office in Madison, Wisconsin provided pro-bono professional and technical services towards the pilot project. A team of fourteen architects and engineers from FLAD have volunteered to create an appropriate design for a house that can withstand wind forces of up to 150 miles per hour and that is elevated above flooding levels.
The Berean Baptist Church in Mansfield, OH, and several churches in Oshkosh, WI, including Wyldewood Baptist Church, Plymouth Congregational Church, New Life Community Church, Lord of the Lakes Church, Oshkosh Community Church, and All Saints Lutheran Church, have all chosen to partner with SFL in the pilot project. With training and technical oversight by SFL and FLAD staff, church members are raising funds, acquiring construction materials, and building wall panels right in their own Ohio and Wisconsin communities. Finished components and all other materials are then loaded onto trucks and delivered to the home site of the beneficiary family.
The Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) has decades of expertise in building homes in domestic disaster zones. MDS is coordinating the selection of low-income, uninsured beneficiaries who have lost their homes in the hurricane. MDS has identified the Biloxi-Chitimachi Indians who live in the Mississippi River delta in Louisiana as a vulnerable group who are falling through bureaucratic cracks. This area was heavily damaged by the hurricanes and numerous homes were damaged beyond recovery from wind and flooding. MDS has also agreed to provide the onsite cost of site preparation, foundation work, and house construction for this pilot project. Their experienced staff are coordinating the on-site building process.
The final result was a solid, high-quality house built in compliance with local building codes and designed for the particular needs of the Biloxi-Chitimachi Indians living in the low-lying river delta.SFL and our partners have documented the process throughout the pilot project. A project model based on lessons learned and best practices is then incorporated into a domestic disaster recovery plan. This plan has gone on to form the blueprint for rebuilding communities and restoring lives not only for the hurricane survivors, but for future domestic disasters as well.
Shelter is more than a roof and four walls...