Ruama Camp is on the phone in her office on the fourth floor of the University of Houston-Downtown’s One Main Building. Camp, UHD’s new disaster assistance specialist, is counseling a student who has been adversely impacted by Harvey.
Calmly, she informs the student of his options for assistance and is particularly direct when informing him about opportunities for Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) support. As the call winds down, she reminds the student to have a “super safe day.”
Camp—or “Ms. Ru” as she’s called by students—is located in N441 and greets everyone who enters her office with a smile and a sense of consolation. The next student who arrives in her office offers some good news regarding her recovery efforts, and Camp quickly issues a high-five.
Not every visit is a celebration. The hardest part in helping others is learning of the losses they’ve incurred during crises such as Harvey, she said.
“As much as I enjoy helping others, it’s always difficult to hear that they are without a home, without power or without basic resources,” Camp said. “But, I am here to help as much as possible, and my goal is provide information and support to get them back on their feet as quickly as possible.”
Camp is in her second week at UHD, providing assistance to faculty, staff and students who are rebuilding their homes and lives following Harvey.
“I was told specifically by the president of this University to help its people,” she said. “And that’s what I am going to do.”
As a former FEMA employee and veteran disaster relief professional, Camp guides faculty, staff and students through FEMA’s “Sequence of Delivery.” Using a chart on a television screen in her office, she points out the different types of assistance available to individuals affected by disasters.
So far, Camp has worked with more than 100 members of the University community. She meets with faculty, staff and students in her office, but will make visits if they cannot get to campus due to issues created by Harvey.
“That’s why I keep these on,” said Camp pointing at her white tennis shoes. “I have to be ready to go out in the community and walk around when I have to.”
Camp’s experience with disaster relief and resources dates back to 2001 when Tropical Storm Allison flooded many areas of Houston. At the time, she worked for FEMA, but later started the first African American-owned disaster recovery agency, Grace Community Services, which partnered with a variety of faith-based organizations. Grace Community Services served communities in Texas and Louisiana following Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav and Ike.
Unlike the previously mentioned student, not every meeting begins with a high-five. Sometimes, Camp has to deliver sobering news to those visit her.
“I’ve had to break the news to some people that they are technically homeless,” she said. “They might be staying with a friend or family member, but if they cannot access their own homes or belongings … or if their homes are destroyed, they are homeless. That doesn’t mean they are without resources, but those affected by the storm must recognize their situations and take advantage of resources from FEMA or other organizations.”
However, Camp wants the UHD community to remain optimistic about the future. She said that it’s normal to be overwhelmed following a natural disaster, but encourages faculty, staff and students to remain as positive as possible when seeking aid and assistance.
“It’s a process,” she said. “The process and the system might seem complicated, but it can be your light of hope.”