While we desperately need immediate relief, we must also seek long-term systemic change.
As faith leaders, we have a responsibility to cry out for the vulnerable and seek the common good, and this means the reform of a utility system that has served as a means for profit, putting profit before people.
Last week, The Network of Texas Industrial Areas Foundation Organizations with interfaith leaders from across the state held a press conference, urging the governor and legislature to take responsibility and put people before profits. It is time to direct recovery resources and restructure utility oversight to protect all, especially the poorer residents already on the edge because of the pandemic.
TMO, Texas IAF Declare State Power Failure an 'Act of Sheer Negligence' & Demand Accountability from Elected Officials
On Thursday morning, Bob Fleming (TMO) put out a call to his network of faith-based organizations, asking how people in the Houston area were coping with the record-breaking winter storm that has gripped much of Texas this week.
"We are calling for Gov. Abbott to first take responsibility for this gross negligence and stop finger-pointing. This is a gross act of negligence that has caused harm to the whole state of Texas, and it's time to put people over profits," the Rev. John Ogletree of the First Metropolitan Church of Houston (TMO) said at a virtual press conference Thursday. The event was organized by the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, a nonpartisan coalition of 10 mostly faith-based organizations statewide that represents more than 1 million people.
"The storm may have been an act of nature, but the devastation of the electrical grid shutdown is an act of sheer negligence," Auxiliary Bishop Greg Kelly of the Dallas Diocese added in a statement.
Since the winter storm and subfreezing temperatures set in Sunday, millions of people at some point were without power, water or both. In South Houston alone, 85% of residents were without power at one point. A boil order was in effect for 13 million people.
[Photo Credit: Bronte Wittpenn, CNS/USA Today Network via Reuters/Austin American-Statesman]
Texas Faith Leaders Call Out 'Sheer Negligence' Behind Power Outages, National Catholic Reporter [pdf]
Press Conference Footage, Facebook Live
Advocacy on eviction prevention has become an important part of this work as well. The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston is affiliated with The Metropolitan Organization, a CCHD-fund grassroots organization that has taken on eviction prevention work since March.
Much of the effort has focused on convincing Houston and Harris County officials to quickly distribute tens of millions of dollars for rental assistance that was allocated under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act, said Elizabeth Valdez, lead organizer with The Metropolitan Organization.
St. John the Baptist Parish in Alvin, Texas, a Metropolitan Organization member, has provided partial rental support for about 30 families in which the primary earner has lost work as industries like construction and landscaping have retrenched under the pandemic.
Father John Taoson, pastor at St. John the Baptist, told CNS the parish community has determined it must help people in need, especially those families whose members are in the country illegally because they are ineligible for the rental relief funds.
[Photo Credit: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]
The violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 6 disrespected, demeaned, and threatened the rights of every citizen who peaceably engages in the democratic process of our country.
Deliberation, debate, argument, compromise, deal-making; these are the means to advance interests in a democracy. The leaders and institutions of The Metropolitan Organization teach and practice these political skills every day; vigorously engaging on the issues that impact our families and traveling regularly to state Capitols, City Halls, and decision-making chambers to advance these issues. That the buildings and halls of power belong to them is made self-evident in their consistent and persistent presence throughout years of effort. Their work is carried out through hundreds of conversations full of respectful dissent, concession, and sometimes victory; in other words, democratically.
Arenas de Ruiz, formerly of Venezuela, had been among parishioners in Harris County, Fort Bend and Brazoria counties who took the three-day leadership training offered by The Metropolitan Organization (TMO), a nonprofit grassroots group. In mid-summer, more than 1,250 TMO leaders from 30 churches and other institutions convened on Zoom and Facebook watch parties for a virtual “Get out the Vote Rally” and made thousands of phone calls to 16 Harris County precincts that traditionally had low voter turnout.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has offered a teaching document on the political responsibilities of Catholics called “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship.” The document urges all pastors, lay and religious faithful and all people of good will “to help form consciences, teach those entrusted to their care; to contribute to civil and respectful public dialogue and to shape politics.”
Father Rodney Armstrong of Our Mother of Mercy Catholic Church in Fifth Ward and his parishioners set up a voter registration table at a nearby McDonald’s fast-food restaurant with owner approval. The pastor also made a video that TMO placed on its Facebook to encourage voters.
Dr. Fernando Scaglia, a parishioner at Assumption Catholic Church off Airline Drive, said he participated in the church’s phone bank as well despite his busy schedule as a researcher and professor of genetics at Baylor College of Medicine.
He also participated in “Virtual Accountability Sessions,” where TMO invited candidates from Democratic and Republican parties to discuss how they stood on a variety of issues.
“There are so many important issues that impact all of us — health and the pandemic; economic issues like evictions and even the DACA issue for dreamers,” Dr. Scaglia said.
[Photo Credit: St. Leo the Great Catholic Church]
Faithful Citizenship Sparks Nonpartisan Voter Rallies at Houston Parishes, The Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
Regardless of the outcome, it’s clear the election has brought out many new voters. According to the Metropolitan Organization, a coalition of faith-based nonprofits in the Houston area, “low propensity voters” — which the group defines as voters who are newly registered, infrequent, young, or from communities of color — are casting ballots at rates on par with or exceeding those seen in the 2016 election in nearly all of the precincts that the group is monitoring.
Metropolitan Organization leaders credit that in part to a recent ramping up of ongoing get-out-the-vote efforts, including having church leaders focus more on civic engagement within their congregations ahead of the election.
[Photo Credit: Mark Mulligan/Houston Chronicle]
Campaigns Try To Reach Election Day Voters After Record Early Voting, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
The novel coronavirus is devastating Latino communities across the country, from California’s Imperial Valley to suburban Boston and Puerto Rico. Workers at Midwestern meatpacking plants and on construction sites in Florida are getting sick and dying of a virus that is exacerbating historic inequalities in communities where residents, many of whom are “essential” workers, struggle to access health care. The undocumented are largely invisible.
Latinos, who are not a racial group and come from diverse backgrounds, make up an increasing portion of deaths from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. More than 36,500 Latinos have died of the virus, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analyzed by The Washington Post.
“If you look at all the negative factors, risky jobs or unemployment, unsafe housing, poor air quality and preexisting conditions, it’s all people of color,” said Carlos E. Rodriguez-Diaz, an associate professor at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University.
Angela Orea, a community organizer with The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, said each day she receives desperate calls from families trying to get tested or find care. Many struggle to find transportation. Some who aren’t sick are moving out of their homes or apartments because they lost jobs and can no longer afford rent.
Every day, Amelia Averyt sees coronavirus patients at Legacy Community Health Clinic in Houston who waited too long to seek help after home remedies failed. The results can be particularly tragic for the undocumented, she said. When a family gets sick, she said, members vow to defeat the disease and take care of each other with minimal medical intervention. The repercussions can be devastating.
[Photo Credit: Sergio Flores/Washington Post]
According to community leaders, about 10,000 renters have been evicted from March through August in the Houston area before the recent eviction moratorium was put into place by the Center for Disease Control to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The CDC ordered a national eviction moratorium, halting evictions effective Sept. 4 through the end of 2020 as COVID-19 continues to cause health and economic hardships. But residents will still be under obligation to pay rent, so those eligible need to apply to Houston’s $60 million rental assistance program allocated through the City of Houston and Harris County, said The Metropolitan Organization (TMO) members, a nonprofit of church groups.
“Evictions put us all at risk,” said TMO’s Bob Fleming. “People who are evicted move in with other people and compound liability to COVID-19 by creating more density....”
Baptist Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, as part of a TMO press conference, said, “The CDC order creates a welcomed pause in evictions in this area, but it is only a half-measure because all rents and late fees will continue to pile up and be due when the moratorium expires on December 31.”
[Photo Credit: Jo Ann Zuñiga, Texas Catholic Herald]
Thousands Evicted in Houston Area Before Eviction Moratorium, Rental Assistance, Texas Catholic Herald [pdf]
Pastor John D. Ogletree reflected Thursday evening that it had been a sad day in Houston, and a somber one. Four city police officers were fired that day for their roles in the April 21 death of Nicolas Chavez, in an incident captured on police video that was finally made public after months of calls, from activists, to “release the tapes.”
But as Ogletree noted Thursday evening, at the beginning of an online summit on justice coordinated by The Metropolitan Organization of Houston and the Network of Texas IAF Organizations, Chavez’ death wasn’t an isolated incident.
“Chavez was the first of six killed by HPD officers during a two-month stretch, April and May,” Ogletree said. “All of these were men of color who were killed....”
“The cry now across the nation is for justice,” Ogletree continued. “Since May, there has been a heightened sense of rage, desperation, and resolve to shift the way policing is done in America.”
That’s certainly true, and it’s the best reason to feel optimistic about the prospects for police reform in Houston, at least....
Grieder: Push for Police Reform Shouldn’t be Scuttled in Favor of Partisan Politics, Houston Chronicle [pdf]
Leaders with The Metropolitan Organization of Houston, a coalition of churches and organizations that work to help low-income, local communities, are calling on Justices of the Peace to halt evictions and for renters to take action to prevent losing their homes.
Beginning Friday, a new evictions moratorium issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention takes place. The rare order prohibits landlords from evicting any tenants through the end of the year but does not relieve renters of having to pay their rent and other fees in the future.
TMO leaders said during a Friday press conference while the CDC's sweeping moratorium is a step in the right direction, it's not enough.
“The CDC order creates a welcome pause in evictions in this area but is only a half-measure because all rents and late fees will continue to pile up and be due when the moratorium expires on December 31” Rev. Jaqueline Hailey, a leader with TMO, said in a news release.
“COVID-19 is not going anywhere, and it is time for Congress to return to negotiations to pass the next stimulus bill, including $100 Billion in rental assistance,” TMO Leader Rev. Scott Cooper said in the release.
[Photo Credit: Courtesy of UT Physicians]
Houston Coronavirus Updates: What You Need To Know For September 4th, Houston Chronicle [pdf]