It was the end. The final deadline in a marathon of deadlines, that told me, all Sandy Survivors, “You do not belong. This is not your home.” It was the final confirmation of America’s lack of preparedness to deal with disaster and protect her people in time of crisis. Today was terrifying, because it is me they are evicting this time: but it is all of us. I was being thrown out of the hotel, but, in a few months survivors are to be systematically thrown out of DHAP/HUD temporary housing apartments, the second stage of their housing marathon.
The government is not prepared for Recovery. Survivors are pleading to deaf ears, at televised rallies and to legislators, for recognition of unrealistic deadlines.
I had witnessed the others, one by one, dragged from hotel rooms by paid bullies representing broken systems: people hanging on to hotel room doorways with bleeding fingertips. And I contemplated what I would do, when they came to get me.
It was a raw cold day. Once again, I/we were abandoned by every entity of the Disaster System supposed to help survivors return home. I spent my first full day officially without temporary housing, without one phone call from Case Workers, Agencies, Programs, or Charities, inquiring if I was o.k. It was jarring to realize how bankrupt disaster systems ignore, deny and pass over you, and that one can fall from hero to derelict, not by your own actions, but the actions of inadequate, broken systems assigned to help in crisis, that have failed. I floated in a cold hissing mist that numbed my senses and isolated me, the whole long day.
The final deadline was issued via U.S. Mail by the Health and Welfare Council of Long Island on a cold November 8, 2013. The letter was a very carefully-worded legal document, obviously designed to protect the Unmet Needs Roundtable from culpability if their action caused me bodily harm. In a way, it was a relief, to be cut off from their judgmental, unsympathetic consideration: help clearly communicated to me only offered to procure my potential NY Rising Grant.
They picked up my tenure at the hotel on September 15, 2013 when FEMA ended the Temporary Hotel/Housing Program, and FEMA issued a non-answer to my 504 Appeal for Reasonable Accommodation on the basis of my Disability. FEMA’s TSA program had been a series of bullying and threats of eviction every two weeks since Sandy hit. At termination of the TSA Program, FEMA dismissed me with a barrage of internal machinations and misrepresentations, clearly stating they do not validate or respond to Appeals. DHAP/HUD was assigned to provide the next stage of appropriate housing for 12-18 months for all Survivors.
The problem for me has always been that I am disabled, with severe medical and physical consequences, that were completely accommodated in the adapted environment of my home pre-Sandy. It has been hideously difficult and painful for me to be without that environment. I cannot function in a generic space, a high-rise apartment, a basement, a house up to 50 miles away from my medical care, options offered by uninformed, unconcerned case workers. I requested being permitted to remain in the hotel, where I am functioning.
DHAP/HUD absolutely refused to keep me at the hotel, and refused to consider every single viable option I suggested that could accommodate my needs. Still, DHAP threatened since June, that if I did not sign their paperwork (which states that I would then be cut off from returning to FEMA programs) “today, the last possible day” that they would list me as “non-compliant” and close the case. The Red Cross, NY Rising, all the “charities” that got the Robin Hood/Concert donations for the Survivors, refused to consider temporary housing for the lady in a wheelchair waiting for a Buy-Out of her now-toxic house. The world has become a caricature: compassionless officials with pearly white eyes that can not process images.
FEMA/DHAP insisted, “Drink the sand. Drink the sand and we will help you.”.
I said, “I cannot drink the sand. It will kill me.”
They called it cooperation, compliance, but it was sand. I choked down the putrid grit offered by hypocritical bullies, and puked up the bowels of my devastated home. I gasped, tears burning my abraded face, and fell into the muck.
I thought of all the people throughout history eliminated by barbarians because they were weak or disabled: in concentration camps, slavery, war-time death marches, and the man on the hijacked Mediterranean cruise ship thrown overboard in his wheelchair by terrorists..
I said to FEMA, “I did what you asked. Help me to go home.”
They replied, “Go to DHAP/HUD. They will build you a castle.”
I said, “You promised.”
FEMA responded, “Promises are words. We have lots of words. Do you want some more?”
I ran against the fierce, cold wind, sobbing, but I was sinking fast into the shifting sand. I was smothering.
One year post Sandy I hold these truths to be self-evident: that, no men are equal. The weak and infirm hold up the line, are disrespected, left behind, trampled. He who is different must endeavor to be the same and keep up, or be dismissed and exterminated by broken, out-dated systems. Agencies and Programs for helping, are businesses and figureheads, not facilitators. There is no help for those who fall down. If your life was a pillar of good works, no one cares. Individuals do not exist in systems.
Every person could fall down from a freak of nature, through no fault of his own and be dismissed, forgotten, smother in the shifting sands of broken systems. You are on your own. If you give your power away to barbarians, you lose your ability to take care of yourself, to revive. Do not drink the sand. Sand kills people!