It’s been a while…

We haven’t used this blog in a long time, but are back in the blog-o-sphere.

Colorado Street Medics have been working around the clock to support Occupy Denver. This weekend was particularly busy.

We are in need of donations to keep this effort going. Colorado Street Medics need the following:

– Rescue Remedy (in any form)

– Dry herbs for tea/salve

– Clearly marked tinctures

– Gloves in all sizes

– Squeezable bike water bottles

– Blankets

– Snacks

– Hand Warmers

– Water

– Socks

Please e-mail to donate.

We also need folks to provide services such as acupuncture, massage and other treatments for our patients. We can provide a space or give referrals.


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The place that FEMA forgot

“FEMA and Red Cross abandoned us. They left us as soon as Ike came, even when our homes flooded and our power went out. No one cared,” Johnny tells me as I stir a pot of soup. “You are the only help we have seen.”

Welcome to the Bayou. No one has much, but they are all willing to feed you. Their homes are tipped over, but they want to make sure you have somewhere to stay.

Folks need their blood pressure checked. They haven’t had insulin since September 1. Mothers need someone to hold their babies while they gather a box of shampoo and clothes. We bandage cuts and hold hands when they cry. Everything is flooded that recovered after Katrina. The cemetary was ravaged. Graves are open. Caskets floated off. Hearts are broken and lives are put on hold. Sure, the boats were broken. The homes were trashed. The people down here will fix it up and get back to normal before they know it. The bayou is strong, but folks still hurt.

Most of our patients are diabetic. They have high blood pressure. Diet has really affected the general health. Mothers tell us stories about all of the complications in their pregnancies and how many weeks premature their babies were. People are choosing which prescriptions to fill, as they don’t have enough money to fill them all. It is nothing new for indigenous and poor communities. We can’t treat all of their ailments or make everything better, but we hold hands, make teas, give hugs and give hugs. It isn’t emergency medicine, this is something different. Through our open hands and hearts we hope to show that people care about a little town in southern Louisiana that FEMA left behind.

We call ourselves the Rubber Boot Medical Collective. We cannot fix most of the problems–reprecussions of physical and cultural genocide, classism and isolation–but we sit in a clinic made out of tarps and flats to try and mend what we can.

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The Free Store

Donna lives around Dulac, Louisiana. She lives in a trailer with her husband, uncle and sister-in-law. Behind her home there is a small building. Every time the hurricanes come to devastate the bayou, Donna opens a free store.

Inside there are boxes of food, toiletries, clothes, cleaning supplies, house paint and other odds and ends. Families from all around come to collect a box to begin to replace all that they lost.

Sure, Donna’s yard is full of mud and is half recovered from the hurricane. Her living room is full of boxes and she had to move the dining room table into her bedroom to make room for more storage, but she wakes at 6 to prepare the store, feed her volunteers and prepare for the onslaught of people in need that will be at her doorstep.

The bayou was left by FEMA and the Red Cross is hardly visable. This native and Cajun fishing community has no money and no high value property to be lost in the flooding and damage. Gustav tore the buildings apart and Ike brought the water. Donna is ready to make sure everyone is able to get what they need to piece their lives back together.

A set of palets served as the floor and the back of a pickup was our supply station. The medics were clad in knee high rubber boots, cargo pants and shirts smudged with mud. People lined up to get their blood pressure checked, test their blood sugar, find a way to get medication refills and get other illnesses checked. Bryan ran water to people in line while Jaimie  and I scurried about through surges of patients.

It isn’t the most glamorous work, but our swamp clinic served several dozens of people today. We mixed herbal teas, ran exams and tried to get folks their medications faster. The shift today was long and rewarding. Even better, no one is trying to arrest us for attempting to help people in need.

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How did we get to Shrimper’s Row?

We started off with a marathon drive from Denver to Houston. With good music, truck stop coffee and wasabi snacks the wind was on our side. We landed at the doorstep of Sedition Books where we met Bones–by far the most amazing person in Texas. Bones directed us to areas in need and we began to seek out the impoverished, undocumented and otherwise left behind.

What we found was a twilight zone. While reports from across Texas spoke of the large undocumented immigrant population of Houston that was terrorized away from seeking aid, no one could tell us where these people could be found. Instead, we found rows of hopping bars and strip clubs. Somewhere in Houston people did not have water, power or roofs. However, these populations have been so marginalized and threatened by the INS they have become–quite literally–invisible.

We helped where we could and headed to Bayou Vista, the town on the shore of the bridge to Galveston. While seeking leads to get into the police state that is Galveston, we stationed ourselves outside of a Salvation Army truck and tried to offer as much support and assistance to those seeking meals. People were grateful to have someone greeting them and loading them up with meals and snacks.

The fire chief of Bayou Vista greeted us warmly and told us we were needed on Galveston. He sent us to the check point leading into the island with the name of a fire chief. The state troopers on the bridge let us on and we drove straight through the ravaged island without complication.

Plugging into traditional systems may not be the first choice of mutual aid healers, but in the case of militarized Galveston, it seemed to be our only option. The traditional state sysems were strained. Most of the fire and EMS stations in Galveston have been wiped out. The local structure needed more trained, experienced and credentialed volunteers. We met the fire chief at Station 1 and were warmly greeted. He assured us that we were needed to help on the island and helped us find the EMS station that was left standing. There we were told that Wednesday–the day Galveston residents would be returning to the island–was expected to be a hard day that would need a lot of assistance from all volunteers. The EMS supervisor arrived at the station just as we heard word that curfew had passed. She spoke with us and said she would help us get involved in some of the relief efforts.

And then a FEMA EMT walked into the room, shutting and locking the door behind him. He demanded to know what ambulance company we worked for. He told us that his employer–AMR, a private ambulance company–had won the bid to work Galveston. He spoke for well over 30 minutes about how no one needed our help and our training was worthless. He stepped outside and locked us in the room with the paramedic supervisor. She informed us that FEMA credentials would be required to enter any area hit hard by the Hurricane and that no one needed help–quite contrary to reports coming from undocumented workers fleeing FEMA and the rest of the federal government.

The FEMA agent returned and told us that he was working to plug us in to the system. We were told to wait more. Eventually we asked to leave the room to eat. We were informed that FEMA agents were coming to help us connect into the system. We decided we wanted to leave the island rather than wait any further, as we did not want to work for FEMA. The agent told us we would have to wait. We asked if he called the police. He said he did not and that one officer may arrive with the agents.

Moments later a State Trooper and Galveston Police vehicle arrived. Three officers were on scene. The trooper approached, demanded to see IDs and credentials and informed us we were being detained and potentially arrested because we did not work for FEMA. While he ran our IDs another officer began to document our vehicle. The officers were abrasive, rude and repeatedly told us we would be arrested if we ever returned to Galveston.

As we were escorted out by the officers, we were given the scenic tour of the corporations profiteering off the disaster (Home Depot), the police state established by FEMA and finally the corporate media lounging in camping chairs outside of the beachside Hyatt.

To say the least, we wanted nothing more than to leave Texas. Thus, we headed to Louisiana. For now we are set up at a free store for the people in the community. It is run out of a small building outside a woman’s trailer and is incredibly grassroots. FEMA left the poor and indigenous people of the bayou to tough it out. We will be working along side of them.

I am tired and it is hard to be very expressive. All I can say is that the time has come for radical communities to develop disaster relief plans based on mutual aid, as the next time we have an incident like Katrina, it will all go down behind barbed wire and checkpoints.



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Local Activists to Aid in Ike Relief

Local Activists to Aid in Ike Relief
For Immediate Release
September 17, 2008

As the full aftermath of Hurricane Ike has yet to be seen, local
Colorado health activists will head to Texas to lend a hand wherever
they are useful.

The Colorado Street Medics—a group of volunteers with various levels
of medical training—assert that healthcare is a human right.
Volunteers from Colorado Street Medics have provided services in
demonstrations, war zones and natural disaster sites since the 1960s.
Their latest project provided medical support at the protests around
the Democratic National Convention.

Now, three of their volunteers will head to Texas.

 “Growing up in south Florida I have lived through the vicious cycle
of hurricane season: the days of panic leading up to landfall, the
hours of uncertainty when power goes out, and the weeks of rebuilding
it takes to recover from these amazing storms,” said Bryan Garcia, a
Colorado Street Medics volunteer. “My heart just aches for those
affected, and I know the only way to satisfy my heart is to head down
there and give what I have. And that is why I’m willing to sacrifice
my job—which I have, as of today—in order to help those folks who are
facing the challenges I know so well.”

“In times of emergency, the most vulnerable populations get left
behind,” said Zoë Hallez Williams, one of the medics. “We are going to
Texas to help the people that are not given safe access to traditional
forms of relief.”

Reports have come out of the hurricane zone stating undocumented
immigrants feared that—in light of recent ICE raids—they could be
deported if they boarded evacuation busses. Others are afraid to ask
for help from relief centers. Meanwhile, impoverished communities in
Texas are not receiving aid to fix roofs, access relief services and
receive medical treatment.

 “In times of emergency, no one should have to worry about getting
help,” Hallez Williams adds.

The group intends to join with other grassroots causes in the area to
offer first aid and emotional support.


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From Bryan…

Growing up in south Florida I have lived through the vicious cycle of hurricane season: the days of panic leading up to landfall, the hours of uncertainty when power goes out, and the weeks of rebuilding it takes to recover from these amazing storms. Without volunteers, the recovery would have taken longer. I understand the importance of citizens being called to action.

When Katrina hit in 2005 I was on my way out of town to leave Florida for good. Instead, I got called into action by a sense of debt from all the volunteers who helped in my neighborhood. I showed up only to be turned away by the armed National Guard. I was to return months later under the hospice of Habitat For Humanity to help rebuild in Slidell, Louisiana. Not the quick response I was looking for, but grateful for giving what I had.

Also in 2005 I left my new home in Colorado to head back to Florida for Hurricane Wilma. It had hit home, and my family was without power due to downed power lines. For the next sixty days Ii worked in rebuilding electrical services, removing downed trees, and living off of MRE’s and canned water. Life wasn’t easy, but I knew it had to be done.

Now it’s 2008 and the gulf coast has been hit by two hurricanes, in quick succession. My heart just aches for those affected, and I know the only way to satisfy my heart is to head down there and give what I have. And that is why I’m willing to sacrifice my job (which I have, as of today) in order to help those folks who are facing the challenges I know so well.

– Bryan

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Needy residents desperate for relief Busy signals, deportation fear increase anxiety in North Houston

Needy residents desperate for relief Busy signals, deportation fear increase anxiety in North Houston


Sept. 16, 2008, 10:29PM

 They pulled together Tuesday and used kitchen knives and brute strength to rip out sopping carpet and the padding beneath it. Their belongings, a pile of wet clothing and children’s toys, mingled in a stinky mound outside their apartment. The Suarez family wasn’t in Galveston or anywhere near the Gulf Coast. They live in North Houston, home to many gritty neighborhoods that know suffering.

Now, days after Hurricane Ike tore off roofs and overturned lives, tough times have gotten tougher.

The Suarezes, like many families, are taking matters into their own hands. “If there is no more water, we’ll be OK,” Maria Suarez, 40, said reassuringly as she took a break from the work. In her complex alone, the roofs of 15 apartments caved in, destroying those units and the ones below.

Across Houston, illegal immigrants like the Suarezes, who already live on the fringes of society, are afraid to ask for help for fear of being arrested. At the same time, citizens who have lived here all their lives are desperate for help and can’t figure out who to call or grow weary waiting on busy help lines.

Mayor Bill White said the City Council today will consider establishing a roof-repair program for people who lack insurance and whose homes were severely damaged. He issued something akin to an ultimatum to landlords: fix the roof or stop collecting rent.

“The first issue we’re going to deal with is people who have holes in their roof from the hurricane,” he said. “If you have a hole in your roof, you’re not up to code.”

Miserable conditions

The city has been in touch with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has a program to place temporary covering over holes in rooftops. For some, the help can’t come soon enough. Warehouse worker Mario Calderon said he and his family, including three children, moved to his now destroyed East End apartment from Katy earlier this year. The inside of his place sat wet and musty in the late morning warmth. Debris carpeted his apartment after crashing through the skeletal ceiling. Calderon and his wife want to apply for financial aid, but they’ve been greeted by constant busy signals and long waits on hold.

“They tell us to apply on the Internet, but how are we supposed to get on the Internet? “They tell us to call, and we call and call, and they say it’s too busy,” he continued. “I understand that a lot of people had debris fly around and some people lost a roof,” he said, “but I lost everything … if there’s somebody that needs help, we need help ASAP.”

In an open courtyard in front of his apartment sat a molding pile of his family’s ruined possessions: mattresses and blankets, the splintered black hull of a DVD player, shoes and clothes from his three young children mixed with chunks of drywall and pink insulation.

“I tell (my children) the bogeyman came and tore everything down,” Calderon said.

“What else can I say?” In his North Houston complex, Johnny Garcia, 28, who works at United Parcel Service, was at a loss for words Tuesday as he described how his life changed since the roof fell in and rain soaked his home. He’d just worked a night shift — he didn’t even tell his boss what had happened — and was in search of a dry patch of floor to sleep on.

“I have to find someplace else to live,” he said. “I wanted to stick it out.”

Four men heating tortillas on a grill across the sidewalk from Garcia wasted no time looking for a place to live. As Ike tore into their apartment in the darkness, they grabbed their most prized possessions — snapshots of family in Mexico, a television and a stereo — and fled to an empty apartment next door.

One of them, a carpenter, used the hammer he works with to smash a section of window so he could reach in and unlock the door. Even if the men, who are undocumented immigrants from Mexico, were willing to venture out and ask for help, they said they wouldn’t know where to start.

“We don’t even have lights,” one said. “We just know what we hear on the radio.”

The storm also has pushed those on fixed incomes, such as pensioners and the disabled, to the edge of their already vulnerable lives.

The Third World arrived in the Fifth Ward, where Hurricane Ike toppled trees, shattered windows and caved in roofs of old row houses and bungalows.

On block after block, rooftops were patched with plastic sheets. But roof holes weren’t the worst problem.

As Norma Jean Smith, 55, sat on her couch while wrapped in a white blanket, she struggled to talk through tears and a hoarse voice. Her throat was closing in on her, she said, and she was scared.

Diagnosed with throat cancer, she had been receiving daily chemotherapy and weekly radiation treatments at Ben Taub General Hospital. All that stopped last week. Since the storm, the transportation companies that had driven her to the hospital haven’t shown up, and she said nobody answers their phone.

“This is my throat that I talk with, eat from, and it’s closing up day by day, and I have no treatment for it.”

A long wait

Her neighbor, Tweed Smith, 54, spent a half-hour on hold with the hurricane information line, 211, to call about Norma Jean ‘s dilemma. An operator told her to call 911 and an ambulance later picked her up.

“Nothing been offered to the people at all, and if it wasn’t for our neighbors — just people pitching in together — I don’t know what it would be like,” Norma Jean Smith said. “It’s just that bad right here. ”

A few blocks away, parts of roofs on six houses in a row were missing. Tiffany Jackson, 24, who is unemployed and married to a man who is disabled, was mopping bleach water on the hardwood floor, the sky beaming down into her 2-year-old son’s bedroom.

“I lost everything in my son’s room,” Jackson said. Soaked mattresses and a sofa were piled outside to dry. So was a television, but as it dried out in the daylight sun, someone stole it.

Chronicle reporters Matt Stiles and Bradley Olson contributed to this report.

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