Rolling Conversations Helping Hurricane Evacuees

Hurricane Katrina and Rita evacuees still living in Houston now have a new resource for mental health counseling thanks to a program called "The Rolling Conversations Project." Houston Public Radio's Jack Williams explains.

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The idea came to Houston Galveston Institute Director Dr. Sue Levin during a conference in New York, the idea of using a recreational vehicle to provide mental health counseling to evacuees in their own neighborhoods. A grant from the Americare Foundation provided a 35-foot RV that's been on Houston streets for about a month.

"It's a typical way of doing disaster response, although usually it's to dispense food and medicine. However, there are projects all along the Gulf Coast that are using mobile units like this for counseling as well."

Using FEMA evacuee maps, members of the Rolling Conversations team have picked four locations in Houston so far and have made initial contacts with evacuees who need counseling. The first week, 65 evacuees showed-up and therapists plan to return to specific locations four times a week. Levin says it's a challenge to connect with evacuees.

"Although I think that we can reach a lot more people through this vehicle and through the way that we work, which is much more collaborative and much more respectful of people and their culture and their way of thinking and their way of talking, I know that we won't be 100-percent successful."

The Rolling Conversations Project uses what's known as Active Community Therapy, where therapists help evacuees adjust to life in Houston and deal with the trauma of losing their homes.

"Even if they don't stay with us long enough to resolve their issues, we feel like we've done a considerable job in helping them move in the right direction in their lives so that they can continue when the time comes for them to need the next step, to come back to somebody like us or go to a new provider."

Nancy Baxley leads one of the two therapy teams that travel in the Rolling Conversations RV. She says many evacuees simply need an outlet for the emotions they have related to Katrina and Rita.

"Some people do just come in and totally just completely unload and it's not just issues that happen from the storm but are issues that happen prior to the storm that they never got resolved because the storm interrupted their lives at that point so they're still struggling to resolve issues that were already there, then on top of that the issues that came with the storm."

There's a number on our website for more information about the Rolling Conversations Project, that's KUHF.org.

Rolling Conversations Contact Information: Sandra Tubbs 281-740-3099.

Bio photo of Jack Williams

Jack Williams

Director of News Programming

News Director Jack Williams has been with Houston Public Radio since August of 2000. He's also a reporter and anchor for Houston Public Radio's local All Things Considered segments...