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


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