Organized Chaos was chosen as the ELGL/UTA Challenge WINNER for their creative engagement solution in Emergency Preparedness!
We are highlighting the work of the five groups that participated in the ELGL & UTA Challenge. Teams were tasked with developing community engagement solutions for one of the following areas: budget, infrastructure investment, planning and zoning, and emergency preparedness. (Full details of the challenge can be found here.)
Is Dora the Explorer coming to your city anytime soon? What a boom that would be for local tourism! Crowds would line the street for glimpse of her and Boots, and of course her famous backpack. Ever wonder just what’s in that thing? Seems like everything she will ever need for any possible adventure is just within her reach. Must be some bag! Always prepared. It’s a great motto for Dora, the Boy Scouts, and you and me. With cold weather approaching, emergency preparedness is a topic at many a meeting and planning session. How do we help people come in from the cold? How do we as public administrators and EFFECTUAL Local Government Leaders engage our citizen and stakeholders to make this a priority? We are going to learn a lesson from Dora.
Not a day goes by in this country that somebody is not living under a bridge, in a park, or bouncing from shelter to shelter hoping for a night of safe rest. Living in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, it is hard to drive through any downtown area or central business district without having a visual reminder of those that are less fortunate. According to the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition there are 2,425 homeless any given night in Tarrant County. Eight percent of the homeless persons in Tarrant County were living unsheltered. Eight percent is not a high number. But if you think about it as 184 people trying to survive in frigid temperatures more suited to hanging meat or freezing ice cream, it almost sends chills down your spine. These are our most vulnerable citizens in cold weather events and they need our help.
Let’s take a lesson from Dora and her backpack. Imagine if groups of concerned citizens banded together to produce cold weather survival bags. Just like Dora when she travels, these backpacks would have items needed for an unsheltered homeless person to find their way to safety and better survive on the cold, mean streets until they could get to a shelter. Supplies could include beanies, scarves, gloves or mittens, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, deodorant, bar soap, wet wipes, razor, comb, hand sanitizer, toilet paper, and a small towel. Additionally there will be food items such as cereal or granola bars, ready-to-eat chicken or tuna salad kits, crackers, fruit cups, fruit juice, peanut butter, and bottles of water. These are survival items for those who cannot immediately get to an emergency shelter, or those who simply will not go at all.
Equally important, there will be an infographic card with easy to understand directions for how to locate the emergency shelters and simple instructions about what is required to get in the door (photo ID, scan card, fingerprints, drug test, etc.). These cold-weather backpacks can be prepared in advance of emergencies and distributed to targeted homeless individuals based on an alert system.
Our plan solicits the support of the homeless service providers, churches, educational institutions, and community organizations in the making of backpacks through the CARE plan (Coordinated, Awareness and Response to Cold Weather Emergencies). The CARE plan is designed to educate the community about the needs of the chronic homeless population, to educate the homeless population about their options in the event of a severe weather emergency and to engage the community in providing the homeless with products needed to reduce the mortality and morbidity rates during cold weather events. The CARE Plan will increase citizen engagement by having these packets assembled by volunteers from faith-based organizations, non-profit agencies, local youth programs, students and other community based organizations.
Why do we need this? The current system is failing us. Overnight hospital stays in Tarrant County cost taxpayers nearly $2 million a year. Even a few overnight stays in the jail, a place warmer than the streets, costs over $33 per night. The groups investing time and effort now are not coordinated and have little lasting impact. If we band community groups together with one production goal, we can create and store hundreds or even thousands of these cold weather emergency backpacks that are ready to be handed out as soon as the meteorologist tells us to start making our hot cocoa.
One of the best things about this system is that the backpacks can be produced for anywhere between $10 and $20. We can all agree that’s far less expensive than hospital stays from frostbite or malnutrition. When these unsheltered homeless enter the shelters, there is a real opportunity to engage them in ways that might end their cycle of living on the streets, saving us even more money. This solution is scalable to rural areas as well, because homelessness is no longer just an urban blight.
Dora is always prepared. Every time she hits the streets, she has a backpack full of anything she needs to survive and find her way back home. We have a great opportunity to do the same thing for our local citizens. It saves money. It saves lives. That really is some bag!
This #CommunityEngagement #LocalGovSolution in Emergency Preparedness was created by the student team,
A round of applause!