Hurricane Harvey: What to think about if you’re housing evacuees

5:12 p.m Friday, Sept. 1, 2017 Local
Mike Brooks is a licensed psychologist with the ApaCenter.

Your house might be full, or about to be full, of people who have evacuated from areas where Hurricane Harvey hit hard.

How do you manage more bodies in your home while being sensitive to their needs and yours?

We asked Mike Brooks, a licensed psychologist and director of ApaCenter, and Lauren Gaspar, a licensed clinical social worker with the Good Mourning Counseling Center, for their tips:

• Be mindful of their emotional state. Right now, the shock has set in. When that wears off, the grief will set in, and it will come and go for months, even years. They might have one good day followed by five bad ones. Everything is not better just because they are dry. Later, you might need to help connect them to a counselor.

Validate how they are feeling without false statements. Don’t say, “You’ll get through this” or “Everything will be OK,” because they might not, and it might not be.

Figure out upfront how long you think they can stay. What would your breaking point be? Discuss it with the members of your household. Have a plan for what happens when that time comes. Most likely, guests will want to leave and either go home or find another place to live before that happens, but if not, have a plan in mind.

Talk to your whole family. Help kids understand that it’s going to be a change. Help them understand why this has happened and solicit ideas for how they can help. What can they share or do to make it easier to share space and things?

Ask your guests what they need from you. It might be just practical things like clothes. It might also be space, either physical or emotional.

Think about the practical details. Where will everyone sleep? How will the bathroom situation work? Where should they park their car? What will be the morning routine and the evening routine? If you’ve had guests before, think about what worked well and what didn’t.

Figure out how to build in privacy. If people are sharing rooms, you might need a schedule to give each person some alone time in that space. If they are in a common area, it might be that that common area isn’t open for everyone at certain times.

Give them space. They need a small part of their day to grieve or reflect on what’s happened without having you watching them. It helps them feel a little bit more in control of an out-of-control situation.

Figure out how to keep as normal a schedule and routine as possible. That might mean you do something as simple as giving the kids the same kinds of snacks to take to school or watching the same TV shows as they did at home.

Collaborate with everyone. Don’t just set the rules or your expectations. Anticipate and solve problems together.

Talk to the other parents about your parenting differences. If you have multiple families with different rules, you might need to create shared rules for the time being. Be flexible, though.

Set financial expectations. How long can you support your guests? Also, don’t plan extravagant adventures for the first few days or weeks they are here. It’s not sustainable.

Give each family their own time together. You don’t have to do everything together. Each of you needs to be with your immediate family sometimes.

Give them some things they can do to help you. They will feel useful; you won’t be as resentful if you share the work. Don’t expect a lot, but do ask for help with dishes or taking out the trash.

Give yourself and your guests a break. It’s OK to be frustrated with one another. This is a terrible situation for them and a difficult one for you.

Take care of yourself. It’s a lot to support another family or person emotionally and physically. Build in fun things and alone time for you, too. Reach out to friends when you need to vent.

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