Thursday, January 31, 2013

Local Assistance for Hurricane Sandy Needed as Thousands Still Displaced

Even though the federal government is certainly needed in order to alleviate some of the burden and destruction caused by Hurricane Sandy, federal officials and bureaus might not offer the best suggestions as to where the money should be spent. Some of the federal funding for the rebuilding of Hurricane Sandy ravaged areas should be allocated to local and municipal leaders for distribution, according to speakers during a meeting about Hurricane Sandy reconstruction financing. And since there are more than 3,500 peoplestill living in FEMA sponsored hotels without knowing whether or when their assistance will be cancelled, it is important that all levels of assistance are taken into account.

The goal of the discussion was to alert the financing officials of the need to begin the rebuilding process from the ground up—not the top down. The restoration efforts must come at a local level; the mayors and local officials have a better grasp of what the communities need than Beltway politicians, but all input is still needed.

Thousands of people are still displaced, without any clear idea of when they will their eligibility for hotel assistance will expire. Even though the rebuilding of boardwalks and other tourist-heavy locations are well underway, many people are still waiting for insurance assistance so that they can begin the long and arduous process of rebuilding their homes. 

FEMA assistance is withdrawn when it is determined that the claimants are eligible for rental assistance, have housing options or are able to return to their homes, but since every case is different, it is impossible to know how individual situations will be evaluated.  How will officials determine what is a viable housing option and what isn’t? What if the damaged and uninhabitable home is mortgaged and the assistance recipient must continue to make mortgage payments?  The hotel rooms do not have kitchens; the Sandy refugees must eat all of their meals out, which is quite expensive. The transportation to and from school and work isn’t free, either. Assistance recipients find that the money which was intended for rental security deposits is continually dwindling away on inescapable expenses.

The housing situation highlights the need for communication between federal and local offices.  While FEMA has issued 1,000 housing vouchers, it is up to local representatives to distribute them as fairly as possible.  Hopefully, the people who are still stranded in hotels without any idea of when they will be able to return to a home will finally get the assistance they need.

Solomon, Josh: Jersey Shore Leaders Continue to Press for Hurricane Sandy Funds Huffington Post 1/24/2013

Barr, Meghan; Zezima, Katie: Displaced Hurricane Sandy Victims Get Temporary Shelter At Hotels Huffington Post 1/25/2013

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Slow Progress Being Made in Hurricane Sandy Recovery

Julian Omidi discusses the very slow progress being made in the efforts to rebuild after the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Julian Omidi looks at affected areas and how they are coping with the recovery.

Even though the reports about the efforts to rebuild the east coast after the “super storm” have slowed to a crawl, it is still important to keep track of the repair progress.  Unfortunately, three months after the wreckage of Hurricane Sandy, several districts are reporting the recovery efforts have stalled.

In Hoboken, New Jersey, there have been complaints regarding flood insurance claims, which have been slow to process. Flood insurance, which is mandatory for mortgaged homes in areas with a high flood risk, isn’t coming to many people with what are known as “garden-level units.” Insurance providers view them as basements, not homes or businesses, and therefore only replace boiler units.  The Mayor of Hoboken has challenged Congress to alter the flood insurance policies in order to provide equal coverage for basement homes.

Residents of public housing have seen the least progress. Electricity, heat and water services are spotty; the high waters brought infestation of water-loving insects like roaches and water bugs and residents still report that stalled elevators have left infirm and elderly residents stranded on the top floors. Because the New York City Housing Authority was so ill-prepared for this crisis, private charities took it upon themselves to bring food, blankets and medication to stranded public housing residents, many of whom didn’t have running water and who had to ration their prescription drug supply.  Today, many of the buildings in Coney Island, The Rockaways and Red Hook are still using mobile boiler units that must be operated via generators.

It is estimated that approximately 20 percent of the homes in Gerrittsen Beach, Brooklyn are described as unlivable.  Many of the older residents are still living in the cold, with only space heaters and blankets, and rely upon mobile units of medical staff from the Coney Island Hospital to help them cope with an especially harsh cold and flu season. Much of the debris has been cleared, however.  The water-logged furniture, carpeting, drywall and other damaged materials that littered the landscape has been cleared away, but the mold inside the homes is still a major problem.

It was reported that 40 percent of the population of Long Beach, New York has not yet returned since Hurricane Sandy made landfall. Buildings are still flooded and covered in mold and mildew. Small businesses are suffering horribly, and many of the local establishments have closed down, unable to earn enough revenue to make up for the thousands of dollars in damage repairs.  Many residents rely upon meal donation services, since their kitchens aren’t functional and restaurants too costly.

Recovery Remains Spotty 3 Months After Hurricane New York Times 1/21/2013

Monday, January 21, 2013

Cars Damaged in Hurricane Sandy are Flooding the Market

Julian Omidi reports on thousands of flood damaged cars from Hurricane Sandy entering the automobile market and offers tips on how to avoid purchasing a vehicle that has undergone a “title washing.”

Once a car is totaled, burned, or irreparably damaged in a flood, after the tow truck hauls the vehicle away we often think that the car is ready for the junk heap.  However, a great many cars are gussied up and resold—and the new buyer is, more often than not, totally unaware of the damage that the car has suffered in its previous life.  After Hurricane Sandy, there might be a great many more cars headed out to unscrupulous dealerships and unsuspecting American (and even international) driveways—cars that might not be safe to drive.

This is not a new activity.  After Hurricane Katrina it was reported that many firms were buying up flood damaged cars and quietly re-titling them and reselling them without ever disclosing the extent of the original damage.  Many states have lax car title laws, allowing cars that have been previously branded as flood damaged or “junk” in other regions to have that distinction wiped from its record.  This practice, called “title washing,” allows vehicles that have been corroded with salt water, burned or wrecked to enter back into the population. It is slippery and unethical, but since the laws (or lack thereof) are just being circumvented, not broken, the scheme is widespread.

Cars that have been flooded with corrosive salt water are commonly believed to never be salvageable, since the electrical components are highly sensitive to salt.  People who knowingly sell salt water-flooded vehicles are deliberately turning an unsafe vehicle over to an unsuspecting buyer.
Because of the lack of uniformity in vehicle title branding, many companies that specialize in vehicle reports find it difficult to access the true history of a vehicle whose title has been washed.  Many uninsured flood vehicles are merely sold for scrap and then resold—without any reporting at all.  There is also a large market for used vehicles in other countries, and many of them do not have title requirements at all.   

Needless to say, be very careful when purchasing a used vehicle. Make sure you are buying from a reputable dealership that is certified for that particular car brand—you want to make sure that the dealer will take responsibility if some component in the vehicle should prove to be in some way damaged.  It might be tempting to purchase a car privately, but it is very easy for a seller to totally bypass all of the proper vehicle registration channels. It is unfortunate, but there could be tens of thousands of faulty vehicles circulating throughout the U.S., and until there is some kind of regulation that prevents this kind of fraud, it is something we may have to face after every natural disaster.

By Julian Omidi

Nir, Sarah Maslin: Dried Out and Title-Scrubbed, Flooded Cars Lure the Unwary New York Times 1/12/2013

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hurricane Sandy Animal Shelters

Helpless Animals Hit Hard By Hurricane Sandy

While the human toll of Hurricane Sandy is un-ignorable, it is so easy to forget the silent, helpless victims: the animals. The hurricane that left hundreds of people without homes and jobs also left hundreds of animals without food, shelter, medical care or hope. Fortunately, there are many organizations willing to bear the responsibility for these little creatures, but the question is: are they enough now that so many shelters are now uninhabitable?

Animal Shelters Currently Top Concern

The wind and water brought by Hurricane Sandy left dozens of shelters struggling to care for its animals. Many workers stayed on without electricity, running water or heat so that the animals could be looked after. Even though many of the shelters are being rebuilt, there is still the matter of housing the animals during the process.

Human Care Efforts Result in Lower Volunteers for Animal Support

Volunteers are beginning to dwindle, as well. The strain of the entire effort of rebuilding homes and other structures has sapped many of the human resources from the animal care efforts, and even though the shelters have bound together in order to give each other support in this difficult time, they still find that they are lacking the necessary staff to comfortably look after all of the animals.

Buster the Dogs Story

The recent story of Buster, the dog that disappeared while his family surveyed the damage done to the home, has highlighted the lack of shelter resources. For weeks, Buster’s family, the O’Donovans, searched the neighborhood for him, and because there was no internet service or even electricity, they couldn't search any of the shelter’s databases. They couldn't even safely travel to the city shelters.

Buster’s photograph was posted on a Facebook page dedicated to final appeals for the rescue of dogs that are about to be put to sleep. It was through sheer luck that the family discovered that Buster had been located but was scheduled for euthanasia. They rushed to call the Animal Care & Control Center where he was held, but no one answered the phone. Fortunately, they arrived at the shelter just in time to save their pet, and adopt another puppy whose previous owner had just dropped him off for fostering.

Volume of Lost Pets Entering Shelters is Causing Handling Difficulties

The shelters are obviously doing their best to accommodate all of the frightened and lost pets, but the volume has overwhelmed many of the centers. In Buster’s case, the AC & CC adhered to the basic standards of care, but they were so taxed that they were unable to respond to the volume of inquiries. It is very difficult for shelters to not only handle their usual volume of animals, while trying to put up with the influx of lost pets after the storm that all need to be reunited with their owners. Not to mention the stress of rebuilding.

Help is Still Needed

It is important that we all do what we can to help these services get back on their feet. Emergency grants have helped enormously, but volunteers are still sorely needed, and supplies are always welcome.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Mental Health Facilities Post Hurricane Sandy

New York City's Mental Health Resources

Among all of the facilities that were taxed by the landfall of Hurricane Sandy, New York City’s mental health resources are possibly the most dangerously overburdened. Many of the hospitals dedicated to the care of individuals with severe mental disorders were either destroyed or rendered uninhabitable by the storm, and officials are struggling to house and treat the many thousands of people suffering from mental conditions that render them unable to care for themselves.

The recent subway assaults highlighted the need for (and absence of) adequate mental health resources. In the past month, two people were killed after being shoved in front of oncoming trains by people with histories of severe mental health issues. In early December, 2012, Naeem Davis, a homeless man, stated that the voices in his head encouraged him to push the victim, Ki-Suck Han, in front of a moving train. Only a few weeks later, another man was fatally pushed in front of a moving train by a Erika Menendez, a woman who was reported to have been in and out of mental health institutions for the past nine years, and had a series of criminal charges against her for assault.

Many Outpatient Facilities Forced to Close Once Storm Hit

Before the hurricane, mental health facilities were straining to provide sufficient services for the thousands of people suffering from mental illnesses that prevent them from leading healthy, independent lives. However, after the storm hit, many outpatient facilities had to be closed, and the patients inhabiting them were relocated to different shelters throughout the city, many of them ill equipped to handle the wide variety of psychoses. The stress of the hurricane also caused patients to relapse into their paranoid delusions, and distributing the proper medications became difficult.

Psychiatrists are seeing dangerously ill patients being released only hours after admittance. There were plans underway to expand provisions for the mentally ill before the hurricane, but those plans are now woefully insufficient to meet the demand. The confusion after the storm has caused many of the patients housed by closed psychiatric hospitals to scatter, with their caseworkers and families struggling to locate them. While many of the patients were relocated to other facilities and shelters, those shelters are not equipped to accommodate the severely mentally ill, and some patients were later found living in deplorable conditions.

The safety and well being of entire communities are in jeopardy by the failure to provide appropriate care for the mentally disturbed. The two subway deaths are horrible examples of what can befall a society without the appropriate resources to care for the ill. Hopefully, health officials will recognize the desperate need for sufficient care, and allocate funds for that purpose.