Six weeks after Sandy hit the New Jersey and New York coast, residents are still struggling and in desperate need of shelter. Many hard-hit victims are not getting help despite President Barack Obama’s pledge of the full support of the federal government, and they are dealing with red tape the president said would not be tolerated.
In the Red Hook community of Brooklyn, N.Y., many residents are still living in their unheated, powerless homes in freezing temperatures. Help from the government for residents has not come.
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One victim from the Midland Beach section of Staten Island is living out of his car, going from one house to another each day in search of a warm bed. Dozens of residents are living in their sewer-flooded homes without heat or power in Gerritsen Beach.
Thousands living in hotels courtesy of FEMA are about to lose their rooms. Hotel stays for victims are set to expire on Dec. 13. That would force tens of thousands into the cold, which could prove a public relations disaster for the Obama administration and FEMA.
"Some people are camping in their homes," said Kirby Desmarais, volunteer coordinator for Red Hook Volunteers, a group affiliated with the Red Hook Coalition. Desmarais did not have an exact number of those in Red Hook who are living in homes without power or heat in freezing temperatures. But she said it is "a lot."
Red Hook, located a few blocks from New York Harbor and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, was hit hard. The harbor flooded homes and damaged residents’ furnaces and basement electrical boxes. Many residences remain in the dark.
When asked how well the government is responding to the crisis, Desmarais said that it is a "hard question to answer. … We had no help for 12 days. The Red Cross and the National Guard, they came too late to help."
According to Desmarais, other residents have stayed because they want their children to attend school and maintain some form of normalcy instead of being bussed away and having to stay in a shelter. Others remain because they are afraid their homes will be looted if they leave.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a recent radio address that his office is doing his part to help those victims of Sandy.
"We’ve continued going door-to-door in areas hit by Sandy, giving electric blankets to residents who have power but no heat, warning them about hypothermia and the serious health hazards of using gas ovens and ranges for heat and letting them know that the staff at the Restoration Centers can help them find warm places to stay," Bloomberg said.
The Washington Free Beacon called Bloomberg’s office for comment and was told to submit questions via email. Six days later, questions about the number of displaced residents, if temporary housing units (THUs) by FEMA are being considered, and the length of the city’s Rapid Repairs program’s waiting list have been unanswered.
Staten Island resident Billy Stout said he is living out of his car and jumping from one house to another.
"It’s tough," he said.
Stout went to FEMA for assistance and was told he should apply for a SBA loan. He asked why he would apply for a loan as he is disabled and on Social Security disability. He said FEMA told him that once he’s denied for the loan they could give him assistance. That assistance came after three weeks in the amount of $2,400. He cannot find a rental unless he travels two hours away.
"I don’t think the government has done enough. They could be doing more," said Stout, suggesting FEMA "could put up trailers at the closed Arthur Kill Correctional Facility or at Miller’s Field. There is so much space there. Then people would have a warm place to stay. I don’t know why they don’t do that."
He said many people are in his position without a set place to stay and having difficulty finding a rental.
Victoria Hagman, whose first floor was flooded in Red Hook, said she is unable to find a rental and is staying with friends. A realtor by trade, she said, "There’s a shortage of rentals."
She also said that the rental allowance given by FEMA is far too little for the rental prices in the area.
The WFB reported last week that about 92 FEMA trailers were sitting idle in Pennsylvania while nearby residents in New York were told FEMA did not have appropriate trailers for their needs. The day after the story appeared, Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) released a letter he sent to Craig Fugate, the administrator of FEMA, urging him to consider the unused trailers in Northeastern Pennsylvania to aid New York and New Jersey Sandy victims.
"It has come to my attention that there are FEMA Temporary Housing Units that are vacant and available in northeastern Pennsylvania," Casey wrote to Fugate. "I understand that a formal request for Temporary Housing Units must be made by the state wishing to use them. Due to the proximity of the vacant Temporary Housing Units in northeastern Pennsylvania to locations affected by Hurricane Sandy, I respectfully request that FEMA work with the affected states to evaluate whether these units could be used by storm victims in need of housing."
Pennsylvania is not the only state with unused FEMA trailers at their disposal. According to a story last week in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, around 520 trailers in Joplin, Mo., are unoccupied.
Lynn Onstot, Joplin’s public information officer, declined to comment on the unoccupied trailers.
"I am going to have to refer you onto FEMA Region VII office out of Kansas City. The temporary housing units are provided and managed by FEMA and they would be the contact for this question," she wrote in an email.
Gerritsen Beach Cares Sandy Relief has started a petition urging Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to bring the idle trailers and any other unused trailers to Gerritsen Beach.
"The situation is getting worse for Gerritsen Beach residents that do not have the funds to repair the severe damage caused by this natural disaster. They need more help and support than they have already received in order to survive," the petition states. The plea for help had over 1,600 signatures.
FEMA’s response regarding trailers in New York has been that its resources in the state for rental assistance and the Rapids Repairs program would help the most people possible. NY1 News asked FEMA this week about the idle trailers sitting in Pennsylvania, and the agency said its THUs are much bigger than RVs and campers and would not fit in people’s driveways or front yards.
However, the Free Beacon found that FEMA’s housing units may not be limited to these trailers. Three types of manufactured housing—mobile homes, park models, and travel trailers—have been used and owned by FEMA. The travel trailers are similar to motor homes and come on wheels. They can be parked on someone’s yard or driveway.
FEMA did not respond to an email request for information regarding how many travel trailers are in its inventory. However, a review of records shows that FEMA reported it had about 130,000 THUs in its inventory, including travel trailers, in 2009. Its plan was to retain 7,200 units and dispose of 121,000 units in an auction. Those auctions took place in 2010.
Desmarais said motor homes, similar to the FEMA travel trailers, also would be a great solution for those in Red Hook.
"That would be awesome," she said, when asked if motor homes could accommodate residents’ who are freezing.