As of Sunday afternoon, some 2,500 evacuees from Houston and the surrounding towns of Beaumont and Port Arthur had made their way to the mega-shelter set up for them at the Dallas Convention Center. At the center, all the services that evacuees would need for their long-term stay until they could return home were being provided. Police, fire and rescue services, social services, EMS and hospital teams and even day care services were all on hand at the center.
In the mix of the servicemen and women and multitudes of volunteers who were located at the center to provide a helping hand, were three volunteers from the Israel Rescue Coalition and United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit.
“Our team is working together with the Red Cross, the Psychological department of the hospital team that is here and with the children’s department. Today we focused primarily on working with the children who are here,” said Einat Kauffman, a Psychotherapist and Ph.D. candidate who specializes in treating grief and loss. “What really moved me was to see how fast the children understood what was happening around them. Whenever we asked them, where do you live, they responded by pointing at a bed nearby and saying “This is my bed, and over there is my parent's bed.” It was quite sad on the one hand, but simply remarkable to see how quickly they adjusted on the other.”
The work of the team members involved getting the children to release some of their frustration and anxiety via play aimed at helping them to internalize their new situation.
“We worked with children from age 2 until age 11 and had them create for us how their homes looked by using play-doh and by drawing on the floor with chalk. This helped them to express their feelings of loss and we were able to work from there. Some children spoke about their pets that were lost, others talked about being separated from other family members. Our goal was to get them to open up about what they were feeling in a non-threatening and positive manner in order to be able to begin processing their feelings.”
Kauffman said that the teams were notified that another 1,000 people were expected at the mega-shelter in the coming day, many of whom would be suffering the same shock and disillusionment that those already present at the shelter were experiencing.
“One of the big needs here is providing the people situation in the shelter with emotional and psychological support when they first arrive, and often that happens at night. The Fire and Rescue crews specifically asked for our help and the help of other organizations during the night shift as that is when volunteer teams ebb. We are working to put a plan in place to be able to help as many of the people here as we can and we are currently aiming to start a group for many of the adults who are here in order to help them process what is taking place around them, so far the logistics have been hard to nail down but we hope to have it worked out soon.”
Team leader Miriam Ballin added that the team was instrumental on both ends of the trip for evacuees.
“We had people in Jack Brooks regional airport assisting with the process of preparing these people for departure to Dallas. We were appointed to become an official part of the preparation process for departure to other long term centers for the evacuees leaving that airport. Due to this appointment, we were able to provide an emotional assessment after medical and safety checks were performed on the evacuees. Then our team in Dallas had people ready to welcome and help the evacuees at the other side. It was a highly effective process one in which we were able to help many people.”
Reports so far have an estimate of a total of some 9,000 evacuees expected in the coming days at the shelter in Dallas. Members of the IRC and United Hatzalah’s Psychotrauma and Crisis Response Unit will be on hand to help them deal with their loss, working with them one person at a time and in small groups.