Leni Calas: Rockaways
I am sure this won't come as a surprise but here you go....
Yesterday I was called by a mental health professional working on Rockaway to go and visit a woman and her two children in their home. They had been living without power and heat for almost a month now and the mold was beginning to crawl up her walls. She was using her stove to heat their foreclosed apartment what the landlord abandoned about a year ago. Whenever her carbon monoxide detector went off, she simply cracked a window to let some cold air in. Her stroller was covered with green fuzzy mold, and her doors were buckling and wet to the touch. Her flooded car still sat in the driveway of her small apartment building and she was just now beginning to put her life back together. Despite all of this, her children were clean and well fed and her apartment was well kept.
When I entered the apartment, the smell of wet mold hit me in the face and crept right through my mask. I felt bad wearing a mask in the house that she had been living in with her children so I took it off. I held her one year old baby on my lap while we spoke about their living situation and her feeling of complete helplessness. No one had come for them, she had no family or friends to rely on, and she was doing her best to get her family out of the house by saving the remaining $2,000 from her FEMA check.
I suggested that we go to the City's Restoration Center and speak with them about helping her get other housing before the oncoming storm. So off we went, kids in tow to get her some help. Upon entering the center it became clear that this was not a place for aid but a gross display of City and State bureaucracy at its worst. We waited three hours with two children and were passed from rep to rep who simply passed the buck on to one another. We were even put on the phone with FEMA to discuss possible relocation for her, she was told to wait for her FEMA renewal in the mail. I could see her fear mounting as she did her best to hide it from her children. "It's okay baby" she said "we are going to be okay". We discussed spending her FEMA money on a hotel and quickly came to the conclusion that this would not last them long and at the end of the week they would be homeless. Our trip to the Restoration Center ended with a $300 Salvation Army store credit and more follow up calls. The City recommended that she stay with "friends and family" at which point we looked at each other…. "what friends and family?"
What were we going to do? We piled back into the car and went to pack her family some small bags of clothing. We made our way up the dark wet stairs and found their supplies by small flashlight. I drove them to my home where they stayed in a guest room in my basement. Not ideal, but an upgrade to the situation they were in earlier in the day. We had dinner with my children and made a game plan for the following day. This included calling FEBS, Home Base, Public Assistance and FEMA in the hopes that they could offer her some assistance.
Now, into our second day together searching for help, I am astounded by this woman's courage and bravery. To leave her home and go into the unknown with a stranger offering her help, is taking a leap of faith that no mother should have to jump. We will continue to look for help and we will not stop until she has it.
Kevin Powell: Coney Island
A really great day in Coney Island, Brooklyn, New York. A team of us served food to a very diverse group of residents there, surveyed a potential command center with and for some of the local leadership, continued to discuss a community-run food market beyond Hurricane Sandy, and, God willing, reminded folks in that neighborhood that they are not forgotten. One thing really bothered me, however: watching residents having to pick out donated clothes from a dumpster next to a church, or from the sidewalk, even. Very inhuman and very disrespectful to treat people like that (a very simple and easy thing would be to have the clothes for distribution inside the church...). Disasters like Sandy not only amplify the issues of poverty, race, and class there all along, but also illustrate how clearly some in leadership positions do not have an ounce of love for the people they claim to represent and serve. Clothes in a dumpster is an ugly reminder of that toxic mindset. No matter. What does matter is the beauty and resiliency of the people of Coney Island, Brooklyn. And that Sandy-devastated communities like Coney Island ultimately lead their own relief and recovery, and not us outsiders, as we should only be there to assist and help when needed, not lead and dictate. Because no one knows these areas better than the people who live there, and no one has a bigger stake in these areas than these residents….
Tatiana and Ernst Nekhamkin: Far Rockaway
We old people stayed in our apartments, lonely and despaired. Our saved water was running out. Everybody understood: "No complains, it is a National disaster!
Suddenly a knock at the door- young girls and boys, volunteers. They brought food, candles, and most important they brought water. It was the Occupy Sandy "Army"!They climbed 17 floors with backpacks filled with water bottles. One boy came twice, he brought bottles and buckets full of water. The name of this boy is Evgheni Glutsky. He had no time to rest a little bit. He was in a hurry to reach other people.
It is hard to imagine the feeling of deep gratitude we feel for these girls and boys. We met our neighbours on the corridor and everybody said how amazed they were and how thankful. They didn't feel lonely anymore. The volunteers didn't bring only water, they brought their heart, and this heart gives more heat than the radiators.
Monica Hunken: Rockaways
I've fallen in love with one particular block in Rockaway. Beach 86. Almost every day I check in with the community, knock on doors and work to clean their homes. the other day i worked with an unbelievably warm Jamaican family. Afterwards I told a neighbor how we laughed and sang Marvin Gay all day while tearing down sheet rock and the woman replied, "yes that's our secret. We cry at night." Mike, from the Jamaican family explained to me over dinner why he was quieted when we came into their house offering our services. He said their family has always been on the other side, doing relief work in New Orleans, Haiti and others. When he saw us, he was humbled by his position now and how easily life can shift and topple any sense of stability you once knew. I do not see this work as help or volunteerism. We do it because we are creating this world together. and when some of our brothers and sisters are suffering, we all are suffering and we are all implicated with the cause and end of the suffering. Every day I am filled with renewed love and hope; not because i am "helping victims" but because I am working side by side with courageous human beings as we build our future together from the mud and the wreckage.
Kids out in Rockaway Park have been living without heat, hot water, electricity and train service for 9 days. They are out of touch with their friends and family in other areas. They are out of contact with television & internet. They are getting warm burning charcoal on the streets. Because, well, why not? We spoke with a man on the street in front of YANA Community Center that told us that they were expecting the electricity to be restored by 2 am in two large buildings. He said that they pulled 3 bodies out of a building up the block and he suspected there would be more discovered when they turn the power back on in the other buildings. We've been systematically going, block by block, with teams of volunteers, canvassing the buildings, finding elderly people, getting them medications they need, giving them hot meals, candles, flashlights, batteries, whatever they need. This was not supposed to be our job. We dont #GotThis, actually. Many of the key organizers are getting worn out, no one is getting paid. We are all working frantically in this disaster response because it needs to be done. Because if it doesn't get done, who will save these people? Like the man I spoke to tonite said, "it's a labor of love"
An observation from another occupy sandy organizer when asked what they felt about FEMA's shutting down for the day yesterday during a snowstorm:
"We are not getting paid to do their jobs while they are getting paid to not do their jobs."
Sofía Gallisá Muriente: Rockaways
Just for good measure, I'll repeat NO CLOTHES, please! Tell people to hold on to it, sort it out and divide what they just don't want and is completely useless (flip flops, strappy dresses, shorts) from what can keep people warm. They can donate the first to goodwill and give us the rest later on.
I drove out there today with a 15 passenger van full of friends, all of which (except one) are not and have not been part of Occupy. They were incredibly eager to help and it was beautiful to see them immediately become embedded in this crazy operation that grows and surprises each day. We are not only affecting the lives of the people in the Rockaways, but also of all of these volunteers, just by creating opportunities for them to build community through solidarity, love and mutual aid.
We're doing good, all my love to everyone out there losing sleep over OccupySandy. Stay warm and hydrated, remember daylight savings and keep on keeping on.