Serving Flood Survivors During COVID-19: An Interview with Dan Holman of ReachGlobal


Dan Holman from ReachGlobal Crisis Response sits down with Tommy Rosson to share best practices on helping flood survivors during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dan has been a Houston resident for three years since Hurricane Harvey but has spent the last two months in Michigan helping muck and gut homes that have been affected by the floods.

"It was really difficult actually to be involved in a spiritual, relational based ministry and to do things physically and try to figure out how to love them without putting them at risk."


Mentioned Resources:

Houston Responds Disaster Resources

ReachGlobal Crisis Response


Transcript:

Tommy Rosson:

Hello, I'm Tommy Rosson with Houston Responds and today Dan Holman with the ReachGlobal Crisis Response with me. Dan has been in Houston since Harvey and has been helping the recovery efforts, but, went out to Michigan a few months ago when it flooded. So, thank you for joining us, Dan. Dan, tell us a little bit about your time here in Houston and what it was like to go to Michigan after their flood.


Dan Holman:

Yeah, so I, hit the ground running here in Houston pretty much, right after Harvey hit joined a ReachGlobal Crisis Response and have been living here, serving with the ministry, helping people rebuild their homes after Harvey. And then on top of that, I'm part of the front end assessment team. So I've been on the front end of a lot of the crises that have taken place in the U.S. Since then, including, Hurricane Florence, Paradise fire response, the Nebraska flooding, Beaumont, and most recently I was just in Michigan for the past two and a half months, helping with a double dam break that took place up there and flooded multiple towns. So I've been pretty busy and COVID has definitely thrown a wrench in the machine in the way that we do a majority of what we do.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. It's, you know, you've been to fires in California. You've been to tornadoes. You've been to, you know, Gulf flooding. Now you're in, you know, Michigan where two dams broke. So you've definitely seen a lot, but COVID definitely throws a wrench into it. Walk us through what the differences are, walk us through how you would communicate differently to your volunteers before they got to a day of serving. And then when you sent them out, what that looked like. How's it different than normal times?


Dan Holman:

Yeah, so normally, when people come, there's no consideration of a proximity, there's no masks being worn. There's not really any, like hands being washed or anything like that. People are shaking, hugging, saying, hi, standing really close to each other. And then we would typically go through our normal safety briefing, to maintain, just a standard of safety, simple stuff like don't step backwards or don't be a hero, you know, stuff like that. Make sure you turn the power off before you start getting a home. You know, things like that that are oftentimes forgotten, but with COVID, everyone for years, I mean, you grow up in the habit of, coming together and that comradery serving together to go help, those who have been affected. And so we pretty much from the very beginning every morning when the volunteers would come together before we sent them out, they would instantly start clustering up, you know, especially the younger people.


Because oftentimes, you know, especially lately everyone's been so separate that this, in Michigan became an excuse to get out of the home and actually interact with people. So people were really excited about it, I think, which is why there was actually a disproportionate amount of people to help for that situation. So what should have taken four weeks to muck and gut ended up only taking a week because there were just so many people, they're helping in that town. What we did though, is when we brought people together, we went through why we do what we do, all that type of stuff, telling them to keep in mind, you know, that you are dealing with people's possessions. Like this is not just trash that you're throwing out. This is their lives. Right. And so teaching them to exercise care before we do any of that though, we would say, all right, everyone, hold your arms out and hold them out.


And if you are touching someone, you are standing too close because it's seems really simple. You kind of feel like you're in, you know, summer camp, but the reality is that you see people's faces go, Oh yeah, we're dealing with COVID. And, it started them off with this mindset of, Oh, I need to make sure that I'm being careful on this. We would then go through and explain to them some of the things that we wanted to see, and we have procedures in place where when people come and see, or with us anytime time that they are in a home, they have to be wearing a mask, period. And oftentimes if you have groups of people traveling together, if they aren't already a unit, then we're recommending you wear masks in the vehicle as well, which I'll oftentimes people wouldn't say.


But wearing masks in the home as much as possible, maintaining social distancing, although sometimes impossible when you have to pick up a fridge or something like that. And it's multiple people having to gather around it. That's where the masks come into play and then washing hands regularly, not sitting close while you're eating, or even when you're standing outside, you know, making sure that you maintain a proper distance and then keeping in mind that oftentimes the people that we're helping are the elderly, or are people who could be at high risk. And so you're not just gonna walk up to them, lay your hands on and say, Hey, can I pray for you? Give them hugs, all that type of stuff. It's, we've been doing COVID thing long enough that I think people are mostly used to it.


You know, when you walk up, you have that awkward, like, Oh, Hey, you know, what, what do we do? Fist bump or elbow, or to say hi, but when you continue to practice it every day, while you're mucking and gutting, or while you're doing what needs to be done, it starts to become habit, right? Like you just say, Hey, how's it going? And you just put your hand up and people start to get used to that. I did see the reality is that, uh, especially up in Michigan, there were times where I remember we're standing there and this woman had just lost everything in her home. She was feeling bad. And, her friend came up and said, forget this COVID thing. Can I give you a hug? You know, because the reality is that that woman more than the physical stuff needed a hug.


And so it's hard. It's a real, it was really difficult actually to be involved in a spiritual, relational based ministry and to do things physically and try to figure out how to love them without putting them at risk. And, but I think that as we set, as we started people off and as we gave them a good mindset for how to be a majority of the people tried to do the best they can to take care of that and wear their mask as much as possible. I'll say too, that it was really difficult, especially in Houston, it wasn't bad in Michigan, but enhanced when it's August and you were wearing a mask and you are mucking and getting, it's hard to breathe. And so we also recommended and tell people, Hey, if at any point you need to stop, go outside, take your mask off, take a breath, drink some water. And that just help people understand, like, okay, you know, this is difficult, but it's not impossible.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. It's, you know, one of the things you mentioned is the fact that many of the people that we'll be serving, I mean, not only have they lost their, how many of their possessions in their house and going through traumatic, situation where, you know, obviously you do, you know, those bonds are formed very quickly and those people want to help. And they're right there in the middle of everything. But the other hand, you know, many of the people that we will help in this situation will be at risk people.


Dan Holman:

Yeah. That's true.


Tommy Rosson:

How did you, how did you manage that with the homeowner? Cause sometimes homeowners want to be in the middle of it. Did you ask them if they're at risk to go to a different room or go upstairs, or how was that handled?


Dan Holman:

Yeah, I think, the way we handled it was with care for the homeowners personal responsibility, right? So you have the conversation, but at the end of the day, we have no choice as to what the homeowner chooses to do or wants to do. Right. And so, as much as like when we come in and you have a conversation of like, Hey, are you okay if we, you know, we're hoping we're planning on wearing masks, all that type of stuff. Are you at risk? Do you need us to go anywhere or do you need to go somewhere? You know, having those upfront conversations, you kind of establish a baseline. And then the people know where to go from there. A lot of the people up in Michigan, just, the way they were wired said, come on in, we don't care. We know we're at risk, do what you need to do. And so I think, we have to do what we can on our part, but the reality is that we can't force the homeowner to do anything one way or another we could, but then we would end up not helping them. Right. Like we could say, Hey, unless you go on the other room, we can't help you. But at least for me, I don't know that I could do that.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. Well, and that, and that puts more of the responsibility back on us to do everything we can to protect that homeowner. We would hopefully do in all things, you know, whether that be trying to protect their valuables, try to protect, that goes back, mucking, gutting around on to know what you're doing and do it right. So you're not actually making it worse for the homeowner, but this is the same thing that in the situation that's so critical. So it seems like to me also, probably more than at other times, and I, you know, it's hard to say more than other times, cause it is critical then, the leader of the team and kind of setting the tone of wearing mask of social distancing of encouraging that. And reminding people seems like it's even more critical.


Dan Holman:

Yeah. And among our leaders too. Cause sometimes there's times where we have multiple leaders at the site. The reality is we go outside, take our mask off or getting something we come back in and we've totally forgotten that we didn't put our mask back on. And so the leaders actually hold each other accountable to, and it kind of becomes a game, right? Like, Hey, you forgot something there. You know? And I think that you're exactly right. Leadership maintains morale in a situation like that. And you can, you could come down hard and it'd be something that is difficult, or you could turn it into something that's positive. And, as long as there is care done with it, people will usually abide by it.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. I think this is another thing that is, you know, if it's possible to come to, you know, if you do go volunteer, try to bring somebody from your household. So at least that's the person that you can be standing close to when you gotta move everything. Since you brought that up social distancing, when you're trying to move a heavy box or a TV or a mattress it could be extremely difficult.


Dan Holman:

Yes. And I think the other thing that people don't necessarily keep in mind and I don't know how, how much this is possible or not, but, some of the things that you wouldn't even think about, like just sharing tools, you know, you're breathing hard, you're sweating, you've got hammers and John needs a hammer. You just hand it right over to John. So if you can just imagine that you have oil on your hands and anything you touch gets oil on it. You want to keep the oil on yourself and your things, you know, or the stuff going out to the dumpster. And, I think it, there's a lot of those things that just, we cross over and pass over, you know, we're polite. And we, after lunch, we take everyone's plates and pick them up for them and go throw them away. That's a point where we could actually be cross contaminating. And so making sure when you do take breaks that you're using disposable food items, stuff like that, make sure that you try to maintain your own tools and gloves and masks. And just imagine that you have it, if you imagine that you have it, it makes it easier to try not to spread it.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. That's the best advice. Just assume that you have it and assume that everything that you do is contaminated. I mean, eye wear is another aspect of that too, because you know, you're going to be sweating and want to rub your eyes and that kind of thing. So you think about gloves mask and eyewear, which the funny thing is that's what we tell people to do in every situation mucking gutting. Right, right.


Dan Holman:

Yeah. Cause the mold. Yeah.


Tommy Rosson:

And we honestly know how that, you know, sometimes it wasn't doesn't get followed. And so it is fascinating. It's even more critical during the season. Yeah. Were there any other big differences? What did you communicate before people got there? Was it pretty much, Hey, where are your masks and the minute you arrive to the end of the day, what else?


Dan Holman:

Yeah. So, up in Michigan, we tried to make sure that communications via social media and stuff like that was in there. Right. Like make sure that you're bringing masks proper PPE. When we have teams that come to serve, same thing, we actually, we send them documentation and information ahead of time and say, if you're not comfortable sticking by this, we're going to have to reschedule to another time. So as much as you can preemptively set people up for that. And then as people showed up, we had masks, like we had masks that were donated and we had boxes of the disposable masks. And, when we had a big youth team one week and the first day they showed up and I think a third of them, or half of them didn't have any masks.


And so we're like, Hey, great, hold your hands out before you do that, go get a mask. Alright, everyone's separate. I mean, you're going to wear this. This is going to be your friend. So, having that stuff on hand as well. And I think too, one of the things that we tried to do, especially I think that youth week, even though we were outside and we were uncomfortable, we as staff wore masks and lead by example, because if, if we're asking them to do it and we're not willing to show them that we're doing it, it's kind of counterproductive to that because people already don't want to do it. You know, it's not like, Hey, guess what? I'm going to wear a mask in a hot sweaty building all day. That sounds like a fun time.


Tommy Rosson:

Right. Right. And I mean, one of the benefits of, I'd say benefits, but one of the aspects of listens you're really, rather than normal, you're wearing it to protect yourself during the seasons. You're also wearing it to protect the homeowner. And so what did you do when you left? What were some of your procedures at the end of the day?


Dan Holman:

Yeah. Procedures that we have set in place, especially on a rebuilding side, mucking and gutting a little more difficult because, you're often leaving it and the home is not necessarily livable, you know, but as much as possible when we leave, we try to sanitize everything that we have touched. We've tried to make sure that we have picked everything up and moved everything out. And then we set up sanitation stations to where people can clean tools, wipe things down. A good practice would be actually, if a group of people have a tool set and, that tool set is going to stay with them and they're coming multiple days, then it stays with them. But if they're putting it back in, then before they close it up for the day, they need to just wipe everything down, disinfected, as they put it back in


Tommy Rosson:

In the years I have helped mucking gut and do all those things and help rebuild all that kind of stuff. I don't think I've ever sanitized a set of tools.


Dan Holman:

It's weird. It's really weird. It's weird. But, I mean, it's 2020, it's the time that we're in. As much as possible, right. It's common sense, but as much as possible sanitize, what you can wash your hands regularly, maintain social distancing, wear PPE, and try to care for the homeowners on a emotional, relational, spiritual level without necessarily giving them a hug.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. I think that's the other thing, which is, I mean, this is just a best practice in general, which is, it's always smart of a team member to have somebody whose responsibility is really just to be there for the homeowner and communicates to them and is relational. And even that, you know, that person will, can take an extra layer of responsibility in regards to communicating to them, but then it also keeps them from necessarily being around 10 people. They're primarily around one and that's obviously gonna reduce just the, the transmission possibility. So, but that's just a good principle in general because, you know, somebody needs to, it's such a hard emotional time. Somebody just needs to be there to communicate and care for them that could speak in such a way that, you know, they experience love not necessarily what it's, you know, when five, six, seven, eight other people are running through the house, tearing things up. It's always good to have somebody helping them through the process.


Dan Holman:

Yeah. And that brings up another point, Tommy, that you just mentioned that I was thinking about, which is, I think that churches and other groups, as they are looking to send out teams in an event like this, they need to keep in mind the amount of people that they send into a home. I remember in Michigan because there were so many people, there were just, there were hundreds of people in this one neighborhood roaming around like crazy. And the biggest thing I could think was, Oh my goodness, I really hope one of them doesn't have COVID. So I'm really looking at how big the home is, what the situation is and what what's the safe and proper amount of people that need to be there. Because the more people that you cram into a small room, the more possibility that you have of someone coughing and everyone else breathing it in. So, you gotta look at the size, like if you're doing a lot of outside work, it's different, but if you're going into a building, I would definitely keep in mind the amount of people that you're putting into a certain square footage.


Tommy Rosson:

Yeah. I mean, we all remember what it was like, you know, around here, after Harvey, there was neighborhoods where there was just hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of volunteers. Especially for that weekend afterwards. And, in theory, that is great. I mean, it is great and it shows an amazing amount of love, but in a situation like this, where, you know, simply breathing on somebody else and can put them at risk something, we need to be very aware. It's one of the things why it's so critical to work together, you know, as local churches and those kinds of things to communicate and have a plan and be working together. So you're not double dipping. It's, it's annoying when you're double-dipping and, you know, you send one group and another church sends a group and you have, you know, the home's already done and all those kinds of things. But I think even in this it's even more important. And the middle end, you got to see that where there was a, you know, how many churches, where they were working together by the time a coalition got built. Tell us a little bit about that.


Dan Holman:

Yeah. The coalition formed and the coalition had about 20 to 30 pastors that were meeting, but probably 50 that were on the list. And in, there were 2,400 homes or 2,400 buildings affected 790 homes that were severely damaged and Samaritan's purse was there latter day saints was there. The Baptists were there. We were there, World Renew was there. I mean, red cross was there everyone you could think of to name was there. And, you look down the street and every home had probably 10 or 12 people, you know, moving around, going in and out, pulling stuff out, which was great. And the numbers in Michigan were, especially Midland were significantly different than here in Houston. So luckily nothing majorly spread, but there was a real possibility for it. And it was on the front of our mind, anytime that we were seeing just these large groups of people gathering together. So,


Tommy Rosson:

And it can happen. I mean, I know in Nashville after the tornadoes, when COVID was starting to cross our country, I do know that there was an outbreak of volunteers and workers in the tornado relief there, but that was the very early days in which even masks were not being recommended. Yeah. Well, Danny, thank you so much for what you do. Dan is one of the most respected people in this world and in Houston. He has just been so generous in all that he has done for so many people and for the overall, recovery community, God has used him in great ways and continues to bless him as he's a blessing to others. So, Dan, thank you for joining us.


Dan Holman:

Thank you, Tommy. Appreciate it. Alright.


Tommy Rosson:

If you want more resources like this, just go to Houstonresponds.org and click on the link and they will be there. Thank you for joining us today.


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