Where does Houston stand 2 weeks after winter storm?

Mayor Sylvester Turner says though help is underway, there's still a long way to go.

Video Transcript

SYLVESTER TURNER: Let me say what a difference-- what a difference a week makes in terms of weather in the city of Houston. One week ago, ice and snow covered much of the city of Houston and Harris County. And the temperature was slightly above 14 degrees. Today we are enjoying sunshine and blue skies. But we cannot forget people-- about the people who feel like they have been left behind and in the dark while the rest of the area has moved on, or is at least attempting to move forward. Many families, through no fault of their own, have homes that are uninhabitable because their pipes froze during the arctic blast eventually broke and sprayed water throughout their homes.

I have seen reports and pictures of ceilings that caved in-- kitchens, bedrooms, bathrooms, throughout someone's home. And parents and children's belongings were destroyed or severely damaged. And in many instances, they cannot live in the home until it is repaired. And that is why today I'm announcing that together with the Harris County Judge Lena Hidalgo, who could not be here today, but is in full support. And this is a joint city county effort. We have established the Houston Harris County 2021 winter storm relief fund.

The fund will focus on relief and recovery efforts across the city of Houston and Harris County. And I want-- again, I want to thank Dave Lesar, president and CEO of CenterPoint, who is here with us today, for agreeing to chair this effort. I also want to acknowledge all the corporations and individuals who have made contributions to help us get the fund moving forward, to help our neighbors, companies like Reliant, the Weekley Family, Shell Corporation, BP, Tilman Fertitta, Kroger's, and so many others.

The greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of greater Houston will jointly oversee and administer the grant distribution process with the help of a grants committee which will include local philanthropic professionals. The Foundation and United Way are now accepting donations online at www.winterstormrelieffund.org. That's www.winterstormrelieffund.org.

Because of the immense need in and around Houston, the fund will focus on meeting unmet needs of families who need additional help to recover supporting non-profits who can help with plumbing and home repair, temporary housing, and other basic needs relief. The fund is dedicated to fill in the gaps that may not be met by other local and federal efforts.

And I want to thank people, businesses and others, for stepping up. We learned after Hurricane Harvey that there were a lot of unmet needs. And while people wait on federal assistance, there needs to be a relief fund that steps in and to meet the gap. And we didn't want to wait an inordinate amount of time to move forward in setting this up and getting things started. There is a tremendous need. I said with this group just before starting-- I can recall the conversation that I had with a senior citizen. She had left her home to go across the street seeking additional comfort when her lights went out.

And while she was walking across the street, she slipped and fell in the street, bruised her ankle and her hip. But she got herself up and she went across. And then not too long after, I got a call from a neighbor on the other side of her home saying that he could see water coming from her house. The neighbor where she was went across the street and saw that her ceiling had fallen in and pipes had burst.

In my conversation with the senior citizen, she didn't focus on the fact that her ceiling had fallen and the pipes burst. What she said, mayor, my greatest thing that she was dealing with is, how do I go from here? What do I do? 80 years old, just didn't know how did she move forward. What I said to her is that we're all in this together. And we'll figure it out together.

And we'll come together as a community to assist you and so many others that find themselves in similar situations. Today, Houston Harris County, we come together to say to those individuals, to those seniors, the people who don't have insurance, the people who don't have the financial means, that just because the power's on and the water pressure is up that we recognize that your situation-- that you are still in a situation where you're needing help, you're needing assistance, you're needing relief. And we don't want you to feel as though that you're in it all by yourself.

And for that reason, I want to thank these individuals who have stepped up. And the good news in our city-- this is not where people are stepping up for the first time. They have stepped up three, four, five, seven, eight, nine times, because we've been in this situation before. Regardless, some would say, you know, mayor, how many times? Well, whether it's five times or 50 times in this city, no matter how many times we come together, we stand up for one another, and we move forward.

And so I want to thank people, Bob Harvey with the Greater Houston Partnership, thank you. Michael Heckman, chairman of Houston First, thank you for being here. So many other businesses all across our city who are willing to step up. And I'm asking you, as the mayor of the city of Houston, I'm asking you to please, let's step up one more time.

And I'll close by saying this. Even in my own church, my pastor always says that blessings are given to those to whom you can send blessings through. And if you want to just get the great-- have that greatest joy, the greatest joy oftentimes is not in receiving, but the greatest joy is in giving. That's who we are as a city.

And so I'm asking people in this city, to the extent you can, to the extent you can, if you will share just a little bit of what you have for those who are struggling right now in our city and in Harris County, I am asking if you will, if you'll do that and give what you can. Now, at this time, I want to invite representatives from the Greater Houston Community Foundation and the United Way of Greater Houston to provide more details, starting with the Steve Maislin, President and CEO of the Greater Houston Community Foundation, and then Amanda McMillian, United Way of Greater Houston President and CEO.

STEPHEN MAISLIN: Thank you, Mayor. The greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston-- recognized leaders in disaster recovery efforts-- have been contracted to administer this fund. Both organizations have expertise in quickly identifying high performing community organizations and providing detailed accountability to the community when the fund's work is complete. This effort is built on partnerships with trusted nonprofits experienced in disaster recovery. Working with experienced partners helps in deploying aid more quickly to those in need.

GHCF and United Way are proud to partner with these trusted non-profits across greater Houston and Harris County, serving our neighbors with urgent basic needs. Guiding principles for the fund will include-- meet unmet needs for the most vulnerable, focus on transparency about the process, urgency and expediency for distributing dollars to the community. Consideration will also be made for smaller organizations that effectively serve hard-to-reach vulnerable communities, including organizations led by people of color and grassroots organizations that may have a shorter history of performance.

Together, United Way of Greater Houston and Greater Houston Community Foundation have deep experience in our region. We are very familiar with the landscape and needs in these communities, have relationships with proven service providers, and can swiftly direct resources to community-based partners.

AMANDA MCMILLIAN: Thank you, Steve. Thank you, Mayor Turner. Thanks for the county and for all the leaders here today. Dave Lesar, thank you so much for your leadership in this fund. The fund is one of many critical philanthropic efforts across Houston and Texas that are supporting those whose lives have been turned upside down by the events of the last week.

Because of the immense need in and around Houston, this fund, as Mayor Turner said, is dedicated to filling those gaps that are not currently being met by local and federal efforts on an immediate and longer term basis. We want to help as many Houstonians as possible while we can handle donations in the most responsible and transparent way possible.

As Steve said, we want to fill the gaps. We want to do it with speed. And we want to do it with transparency. As the weeks and months of recovery continue, similar efforts and additional rounds of funding to support nonprofits that are providing much needed relief to Houston area families throughout this recovery process. Again, to donate, as Mayor Turner said, you can go to www.winterstormrelieffund.org.

As Steve said the fund will be providing grants to nonprofit partners that are focused on helping the most vulnerable families recover, including households without insurance who are ineligible for federal assistance or who have unmet financial needs. As private funds are raised, the advisory board and grants committee are gathering up-to-date information on needs and gaps to determine eligibility. And that will be shared publicly very soon.

There will be a concerted effort to complement FEMA federal assistance. So we encourage impacted families to please go ahead and apply for FEMA assistance. And we want to make sure we take advantage of the funds available to us. The Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way of Greater Houston, we will share all information about all grants publicly on its website and through other communications for complete transparency about expenditure of those funds.

As Mayor Turner said, we are in this together. For those of us who are suffering, you are not alone. We encourage our neighbors who need help with basic needs and resources available to call 211. 211 is available 24/7, 365. And again, for information on the Houston Harris County 2021 Winter Storm Relief Fund money that may be available to assist with plumbing and home repairs, you can also text HoustonFreeze-- so all one word, HoustonFreeze-- to 898211. As soon as additional information is available on funding eligibility and criteria, we will text you with the information needed to apply.

SYLVESTER TURNER: Thank you both. Thanks, Stephen. Thanks, Amanda. The intent is to be collaborative. So we've set up this advisory board. And at the same time, it's a collaborative effort between the Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way. So the intent is to be collaborative because we recognize the immense need that exists in Houston and in Harris County. A fund advisory board has been established to lead fundraising efforts and oversee the grant making process.

Dave Lesar, CenterPoint Energy, will serve as chair of the advisory board, which will consist of eight members. And those members are Ric Campo of Camden Property Trust. Jim Crane, the Houston Astros. Cal McNair, the Houston Texans. Gretchen Watkins of Shell Oil Company. Scott McClelland of HEB. Attorney Jacob Monty of-- Jason Johnson, president of MetroNational, and Bill Jackson of Harris County.

The advisory board's charge is to raise money and direct efforts with a laser-like focus on home repair and related relief and recovery efforts. Today I want to encourage everyone who can, especially our corporate leaders and business leaders and philanthropic groups, to please, please donate. We didn't want to wait too much time before making the announcement. We wanted to do this announcement now to put the call out.

Many people were already on the margins before the storm due to COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment, and health concerns. It's been a tough last 12 months. It's just been a tough last 12 months. And now, in the month of February, to experience this situation. But as I've said before, since I've been mayor, I have seen storms come and I've seen storms go. And the people in this city continue to stand.

We are a resilient people. And we are resilient people because of who we are. And we are hashtag Houston Strong. We are hashtag Harris County. And when we work together, we all can be in a much, much better place. So I want to thank everyone again. I appreciate you. Thank you in advance. Appreciate those who have not yet given but plan to give.

And then what I would say to people who find themselves in a very tough situation right now-- just know that we see you, we hear you, we understand and feel your pain. And we'll do everything we can to assist. Having said that, if there are any questions, we can take them now.

- A couple of questions from KTRK, the pool camera today. They were asking, how is CenterPoint handling customers with exorbitant bills right now, and how many CenterPoint customers are on a variable plan that could see higher than normal rates?

SYLVESTER TURNER: Can I just stick it to the relief right now, and then just-- let me-- I don't want to-- let me just-- I don't want to lose my-- we'll address all of that, OK? But let me tell you, right now I'm standing for money. I'm like the pastor with the collection plate. Anything that's interfering with that, that's-- you know, we'll hold on that later. But I'm asking you to contribute to people who are needing some help right now.

You can't undo what happened last week. But let me tell you, even though you don't have to boil your water, that doesn't mean anything if you can't get water coming in because you turned off your water because your ceiling has fallen in. You still need boiling water. Or if you cannot stay in your home and you don't have the money to go to a hotel or friends to go to.

So that's why for today, if you will-- we can get that. But for this moment, any questions related to the relief fund? There will be more information made available. But I will tell you, I am so delighted. And this is one of those times when the Greater Houston Community Foundation and United Way working collaboratively and then with this advisory board, and we just got some stellar-- some stellar individuals that are a part of it. And then those who are not even a part of it have stepped up and contributed, like Joe with Kroger. I can't say enough. And then with Bob with the Greater Houston Partnership this year, and so many others. It just shows a very unified and collective effort.

Any other things? Because I promised I wasn't going to hold them long because I need them dialing for dollars. All right. Thank you all so very, very much.