Isolated Seniors in Despair
I have worked in human services for almost 20 years and this storm was one of the most traumatizing events of my career, and believe me, I have seen A LOT. I have worked in some very gritty sectors of social service and have some pretty tough skin. But, when you hear voice after voice of really old people over the phone, isolated in their homes TERRIFIED because they may die without water in THIS country...it will unnerve the strongest of us.
I'm the Executive Director of Drive a Senior-Austin, TX, we provide free transportation service to homebound, isolated seniors in Austin. The week of Uri we rapidly transitioned into an emergency resource center, calling over 400 of our clients (those who had cell phones) in a matter of hours to check on them and take them supplies. One older gentleman was eating his cat's food, a women in her 90's hadn't had water in 2 days, another simply couldn't reach her extra blankets on a high-up shelf, many older adults were in tears as they believed they were forgotten about during this crisis. Isolated, alone, freezing, and scared.
We started to receive calls from non-registered seniors in crisis, as well as city council members who were not equipped to help the marginalized seniors in their district who were alone in their homes. Drive a Senior-Austin, TX had the capability to RAPIDLY deploy volunteers who took water, food, and blankets to the homes of older seniors, often at their own risk on icy roads. Thanks to the help of Alison Alter and her crew for giving us access to emergency water to distribute, we quickly had a wall lined with cases of water. Several volunteers simply had a senior get in their car and take them home with them, knowing that no senior should ever be left alone in those conditions. (they hide their capes under their everyday clothes). Our greatest asset was our relationship with the local faith community. Several of our sponsoring congregations contacted me and asked what they can do. They were able to deploy volunteers and supplies just as rapidly as we did, calling on their congregants to go to their elderly neighbors' doors to check on them.
I got in my car after two intensive days of dispatching calls and supplies, calming seniors down, tracking down supplies and I cried. I was overwhelmed by how much fear I heard in so many older adults voices, how much hopelessness was felt through my cell phone. I thought to myself, "How did this happen? How did we (Austin) not have a plan?" You see, I grew up and spent the first 35 years of my life in a region where emergency preparedness was indoctrinated in the culture of every man, woman, and child. This situation didn't make sense to me, how could such a lucrative and intelligent community NOT have an emergency plan for the most vulnerable residents?
The good news is, is that this lucrative and intelligent community CAN do something about it and HAS started to create goals and plans. Here's to hoping for long-term success and collaborative work to ensure no one ever has to feel terrified of dying from the lack of water in our great city again.
This consultation has concluded. All submissions will be archived at the Austin History Center. Thank you.