Beware of Do-Gooders with Axes. 8-12-13

Giving dumbbell to sinking man instead of help. Making worse con

Loss is a hierarchy of values, unique to oneself, impossible to comprehend from the outside. Loss is layers of priority, woven intricately across your life, a tapestry of history, experiences, memories, possessions, ownership, and environment, withdrawn. It is exhaustion of the tiny treasures in your life, tangible and intangible, that soothe you, nurture you, buffer, energize and propel you. The greatest losses are intangible, impossible to grasp without heartstrings.

The survivors of the SuperStorm understand the hierarchy of loss. Loss for them focuses on home, their history hemorrhaging across a painting in progress by an artist concentrating on a date of completion, not the hues: loss upon loss wiped away as a mistake on the canvas, an intrusion in the gestalt, smeared by a cold hand without pulse.

I had a home. It was beautiful to me: pretty, muted pastels, soft fabrics, comfy pillows, cozy workspaces, solid wood furniture, functional, all that I needed. My home was memories: my children scribbling everyday adventures across the walls, carving their dreams into Mimosa they straddled, imaginations soaring, unfettered; rolling in fragrant grasses with abandon, looming green foliage affording security: inspiring me, delighting me, as they grew strong and tall, like the trees in my sweet garden. It was all that I wanted: all that I needed.

The rocks in my garden were collected from the world: fondled, contemplated, transported to this fertile land, their history intact, lovingly placed with deliberation and intention, substantial and validated. My garden reeked of mountains, forests, meadows, beaches, streams, waterfalls, oceans, and Indian preserves, with igneous, sedimentary, metamorphic. Smooth Florida ocean rocks, Nova Scotia conglomerates, river rocks from Maine rested beside Mermaid’s toenails from Noyack, vibrant sunset shells from Sanibel, slipper shells, spotted clams, olives, angel wings, paper figs, murex, whelk, curls, and conchs. I picked each up because it was special, like the people in my secret garden.

I nurtured a sweet garden so many years ago, to shelter my children from the busy street, to give them unspoiled acreage to own: before baseball and two-wheel bicycle rides to Jones Beach expanded their world into tomorrow. Those were years of innocence, when neighborhood children flocked to our verdant sanctuary, for a summer’s day of riding toys, sliding water fun and hours of good climbing trees, imagining and inventing, rehearsing tomorrow, dripping ice pops into the cool dark earth, dirty feet running across blankets of soft grass. Those summer days of noisy children with dirty hands in my garden, needing me, wanting beyond any place to be here with my children and their toys, lived on each morning, in songbirds summoning me to tall hedges with deep strong roots, and soaring climbing trees. Memory whispers timeless messages across the heart. How simple, yesterday.

Then came years when bikes turned into cars. Heavy traffic on the street triggered adapting the yard for greater functionality. A street, that had once been dead-end host of neighborhood softball games, now wrapped around the new Cedar Creek Park and down to Seaford Harbor Elementary School, providing access to marinas and taverns. Cars were being hit in the street regularly by drunks. I placed white rocks where the grass used to be and two toyotas slept peacefully through college.

In those days, Cedar Creek Park was a bone the County threw at homeowners who protested the County’s repurposing of the marshland stretching south from our homes all the way to the Great South Bay: a playground for fishing, bird-watching, romping and exploring, ecosystems wiped out, mutilated, usurped by local government, to create a bedroom for sewage tanks and a chemical plant to spew the oppressive stench of chemical sewage into the salty air at 2 a,m, each night, as infants sleep in their cribs.

On October 29, 2012, SuperStorm Sandy engulfed our neighborhood with raging floodwaters, spewing sewage that tore our lives apart. My house gulped down the putrid slime and puked up everything I owned: my secret garden stood resilient above the onslaught, quiet sentinel. And as spring breezes ruffled lush lacy foliage, I sat each day in my fragrant green sanctuary and believed in restoration and nesting.

FEMA, the government agency for Hurricane Sandy survivor’s assistance, let us all down: providing outlandishly low assistance grants, that made timely return home impossible. FEMA prefaced the assistance with, “You can do it with free help.” In reality, during such an extensive event, free help, any help, was virtually non-existent. The survivors were on their own: destitute, living in substandard, make-shift quarters, due to governmental failure. The Hurricane Sandy Recovery effort is a National Tragedy: America’s shame!

Temporary Housing was doled out by FEMA. People dropped out of Temporary FEMA Housing every day, not to go to HUD apartments or permanent housing, but to substandard private accommodations anywhere, just to get away from the bullying and constant threats of being thrown out by FEMA agents at their door.

So, under threat again of being thrown out of the Hotel by FEMA in three weeks, I accepted an eleventh-hour offer of free help from an international church group seeking a house to restore. They had a house to restore on Monday, but it fell through. Consequently, they had 10 volunteers coming from Alabama on Sunday. I was called on Friday by the Director, who outlined what they would do in my house: check the roof leak, and possibly patch it, empty insulation and toys from the attic, insulate the walls, and sheetrock. I asked if that was all. He said yes.

I trusted this group because they had gutted my house. They had been kind, thoughtful people, who seemed competent enough. They never overstepped their authority, in their past interactions with my house.

I pulled up to the curb, prepared to ease my accessible van between formidable hedges enclosing my ravaged, gutted home, as I did each day since the malevolent event. I was comforted by this precious remnant of my life left looming, strong, surviving, like me, the terrible storm: my yard, filled with shadows of squealing children from yesteryear. I spent hours here every day, nurtured by memories.

My van hesitated, then stopped. Oddly, I pulled up to the wrong house, one that was in the process of being bulldozed, it seemed. My internal navigation had failed. Clearly, the hedges I passed through each day to a restoration project limping along without funding, were not here.

No, my house was standing green and solid in front of me, clearly visible: naked, exposed, vulnerable, on a totally bald lot, sterilized, automobiles speeding past. My yard was obliterated. My garden, was mutilated, demolished, gone! The ground was still steaming. My eyes clouded over and bled profusely a lifetime lost. Loss upon loss pummeled me and I was overcome. Hope threw a lance through my heart and I bled out in the street. I was all gone. There was nothing left of me. Nothing left!

A mob of burly workers, were hacking, chopping, slicing, ripping up roots that were pulling back with 60 years of brute strength and cherished history, unwilling to yield the land of their birth, struggling against insanity. Strangers raked wet dirt over my white pebbles, standing on my rock garden, loading six-foot-long pivots into belching yellow dumpsters, to transport what was left of my life to some stinking landfill, my yard to wither in the hot summer sun, and die, unattended, unloved, the last vestiges of an unjust, uncaring world gone berserk.

I was empty. My world was only devastation and loss. Gasping green vines hung limp from the dumpster screaming my name. My heart shrieked so loud my head exploded and membranes rained down on the fragrant dirt, and soaked into my land. I could not breathe. It was armageddon. Goodness was gone.

A big, rough man with a pleasant face walked toward my car. A grey-haired woman stood on my oozing land, pointing, amid swinging blades: men with axes trashing my land without permission. Strong men struggled with massive roots that would not relinquish their right to survive and howled for me to save them. The violence smothered a field of white pebbles and smooth pink river rocks. They had obliterated every piece of foliage, every living thing, from the street to the windows: privet hedges, Roses of Sharon, Wisteria, Forsythia, mom’s American Beauty rose bushes, pachysandra, and oak trees my sons planted. The ground looked like it was put through a sifter. Insensitivity swallowed my past, sucking songbirds, purple violets and lily of the valley, sweet blooming Privet, through the jagged, closing chasm.

The man walked over and leaned against my van, resting his sweating arm across my mirror, “Wendy?” he said. I wanted to throw his arm off my property.

“What did you do?” I whispered, breathless. I was shocked, devastated, appalled. I did not understand. I felt faint, enraged, hopeless, terrified. “What did you do to my yard?”

He turned away from me, toward my raped land, and declared with callous disregard, “Looks good, doesn’t it!”

I wanted to tear his head off and smash it to the pavement, at his arrogance. His lack of feeling confirmed he was not human.

“Why did you do that!” I said. “You had no right!” I could find no words. It was too horrible. “This is my land.”

“It had to be done.” he said. “It looks better.”

“Better than what? You had no right. This is my property.” I insisted. Everything was spinning. I could not see, for the tears.

He stood there with his back to me admiring his delinquency.

“Is Grace here?” I mumbled.. She was an administrator: he was the foreman.

“She’s over there,” he pointed. He called to her, like nothing was wrong. She walked toward my van. I was slipping away.

“Hi.” she said cheerfully. She was an arrogant woman with a perennial smirk. I wanted to lunge from my van and strangle her, as she did my garden. I was face to face with the Devil.

“What did you do to my yard? “. I said. “How could you do that?”

“Your neighbors like it.” she smiled.

“You talked to my neighbors, but you didn’t call me?” I said. “Why did you do this? This is my property!”

“In this Program,” she said, “we must make the house better. This is better.”

“No! No, this is not better.” I said. “You trim a hedge, you don’t demolish a yard. You had no permission to touch my yard! This is my property! You had no right!”

The two stood against my van, ignoring me, prattling, “It looks good. This is the least of your worries. You should be grateful. People have a lot more to worry about than something like this. You have a lot more to worry about than this.” They were arrogant ego-maniacs, trampling on property rights and choice, in the name of charity. I was revolted by their smug self-righteousness.

There was nothing I could do: it was all gone! My ability to function, in a wheelchair, living alone, on a busy street, was gone! It was no longer safe, secure, or private. The damage was irreversible. As a person with multiple melanomas, there was no longer shelter from the sun. The firm rocky surface for my wheelchair, exists no longer. They didn’t get it!!!

I guess the church trashed my yard because they had 10 volunteers from Alabama with nothing to do. The building materials were not delivered until 3:15 p.m., long after my yard was demolished by men with axes. They obliterated my present and my past, to provide busy work.

I lost my home to a terrifying natural event. I lost my environment to terrifying control freaks feigning charity. Beware of do-gooders with axes! They will tear your heart out!

Advertisements

Shadow of FEMA. 7-2-13

FEMA opens disaster recovery center in devastated area

There is value in losing everything, in being destitute in a world of plenty, in a world of things. When you have lost everything you struggled and sacrificed for all of your life, rather than a void to be filled, there is a crystalline strength in you to be accessed. You see clearly. You feel, untethered. You know truth, You fear nothing. Possibility is unlimited.

Nothing worse can happen to me. I have nothing left to lose. Nobody can hurt me more. That is very liberating, and sad. I tell no lies.

The agency of the United States Department of Homeland Security, called FEMA, is out-dated, and out of control. It needs to be investigated and held accountable for its actions and mistakes: re-thought, re-structured, re-designed. FEMA has become a pale shadow of its original intent, which was to coordinate response to a U.S. disaster that overwhelms local and state resources.

Present day FEMA runs rampant over people and circumstances, wrecking havoc on good and honest men, making a disastrous event into a human relations nightmare, an avenue to destitution and bankruptcy. FEMA treats people with callous disrespect, and gives them outrageous token assistance that is much more a hindrance to recovery than a help. People walk away from their homes, because they are being offered nothing: no help, assistance, options, no hope. People walk away from FEMA disrespected and bleeding. I watch broken peers walk into the surf, shoved out of shelters, with no place left to lie down, and I am diminished.

The problem is not the resources of FEMA or its limitations, it is the attitude, training, process, procedure and accepted outcomes. FEMA gives people only the ability to walk away from their homes, or paste together disorder and destruction, in the name of restoration: to become an unlivable sinkhole when FEMA is safely removed, working on its next disaster. FEMA is hindrance: negative help, professional bullies.

This is the country I love. I wish I could say something more positive about its effort to manage disastrous events. But, the only productive way to interact with FEMA is to point out their glaring failures, and hope that someone will respond with critical analysis and action. It is time to stop limping off alone, licking our wounds. We must stand up together and acknowledge how much damage FEMA does, for change to happen. There is momentum in truth, to action.

I am not afraid of FEMA. I lost everything. Then, FEMA destroyed all of the intangibles I had left. I join a crowd of survivors who have been hurt, not helped by FEMA. Perhaps we are irreparably hurt. Perhaps we can recover, despite FEMA.

Climbing a Ladder in the Snow. 4-11-13

Winter Driving - Winter Road

Living with pain, immobility, disability, in a National Disaster is like climbing a ladder in a blizzard, with howling wind tearing you from safe footing, blinding snow lashing your face: suspended over a swirling, bottomless pit, without mercy, without reason. Frozen rungs burn fingertips longing to let go, striving to hold fast, fearing below. Hold on. Be strong. The weak fall, or are pushed out of the way.

In disaster, by necessity, there is only time for routine, process and procedure. There is no time for difference, specifics, special cases. There are hospitals and nursing homes for the weak and infirm. Those who hold up the line, are trampled, stepped over: that is history. The Program, the Plan, Progress, is imperative to success. Statistics demonstrate results.

All of this is logical, reasonable for the greater good, for efficacy: but it is not reality. One person in every five living in society in America is disabled. One in ten has a severe disability. Disabled people are the world’s largest minority. We must learn to deal with disability, diversity, with intelligence, empathy and procedure. We must not let systems define, interpret and react to disabled people as freaks or annoyances: abuse or victimize them. We must not let systems turn functioning people into cripples, for the convenience of the system, because of their own internal inadequacies. It is the responsibility of each disabled person to teach uninformed, unaware, resistant people and systems that disability is as much a part of the process as it is of life. Disability is part of the equation: it must be part of the Plan.

Uninformed and inappropriate reaction to the disabled person, places responsibility to fit into the existing system, the prevailing mindset, estranged society, on the disabled person, and puts pressure on him/her to be all right. The pressure to fit in, not slow down the mechanisms, be normal, or step aside, is palpable. The message is, “You are in the way.” We are taught to hide our limitations, and smile when it hurts, to be accepted. Whether the disability is obvious, or invisible, you are in the way as long as you need something different. Different is time, thought, and pause. Modern society has no tolerance for unequal time distribution among individuals. There is only black or white: adequate, or faulty.

Society does not understand the functioning disabled: that some people live with severe symptoms, and function as productive rational individuals, fit in, contribute, excel. And yet, if we need to pause for a moment, perception of our personage instantly changes. We are at all times compelled to stand straight. Be strong. Don’t drop the rope!

It is a regrettable fault of human beings that they relate and react to what they see and what they hear. The value of one human being cannot be seen with the eye. Vision is faulty. Perception is clouded by individual history, preferences and biases. We are all dressed in the same fragile derma, some with cuts and abrasions. Derma is superficial: there is so much more.

Likewise, our value cannot be identified by word of mouth. Words are flexible tools, useful to facilitate a purpose, subjective, not necessarily accurate representations. Words can be manipulated, colored, changed. We should believe what transpires: action is reality, value.
What I do is who I am.

And so it follows that there is unrelenting climbing of the ladder in the snow, for disabled during disaster. Hold tight! Don’t slip! There are those waiting for you to fall: to prove that you are incompetent, irrelevant. There are those who want you to move on, disappear, stop taking up space. You are in the way.

The quandary is the hierarchy of need in disaster. Everybody is in need: dire need. There is no room, no tolerance, for additional need: unrelated need. In real life, a disabled person deals with difficulty, every day, in every situation: existing is a challenge. When life stops, when the world holds its breath for disaster, needy people are an unanticipated, unwelcome burden.

The loss sustained by a disabled person can not be understood by an able bodied person: they have no field of reference for it. It is core suffering, not circumstantial loss. Disabled people do not need people to share their pain. They do not want pity, they want to be accepted and included, as they are: given a chance to function on their own terms, without judgment. We are each of us imperfect beings in an imperfect world: everyone has some cross to bear, and a little bit of hero in him.

It is always hard for the disabled person, physically, environmentally, socially. But, in disaster it is hard for everyone, not just disabled people. However, disabled people live with constant, unanticipated challenges every day, and adjust to deviation and dissonance readily. Able bodied people often live relatively comfortable, predictable lives. They may have difficulty adjusting to being victim. They may have less tolerance for breach of their continuity, status quo.

In reality, society, disaster management, would be happy to pass the burden of disability on to hospitals, nursing homes, incompetent custodial institutions. Disabled people try to stand up and look normal so agencies leave them alone. Disabled people spend half of their lives pretending to be o.k., first so no one will put them away, and then so loved ones will not feel bad that they are not o.k.

When you are disabled, in pain and in your home, it is like a policeman who, by habit, sits with his back to the wall in a restaurant. You are in your own environment, operating on your own terms, secure, safe, confident. You are in control. You have your back to your own wall. You are normal, within your environment, your sanctuary. You are valid, acceptable, accepted. You are content.

Nobody is ok being disabled, compromised, living in severe pain. It is abnormal, extremely difficult, caustic. But, one day certain people wake up, and in a split second nothing will ever be the same, and everything will always be difficult. There is choice: face it, or deny it, deal with it or rile against it, be strong or be pathetic. Choose to go on or exist and be acted upon. From that day on, there is no more life as you knew it, but you can create, enhance life. You want to do it on your own. You learn to handle your disability in creative, innovative ways. Your own actions make you free from dependence on others. The world can learn much from the process of living disabled.

How do we fix the systems? By accepting disability as part of the diversity and individualization of life and writing it into the script. Disabled people need very little in the grand picture: they contribute much to the greater good.

So, do not look away when a disabled person walks your path. Attitude and biases of people and systems make life intolerable, not disability. We do not ask for help unless we need it, just like you. sometimes we hold up the line, but so do you, for different reasons. Life is complicated. Disaster is awful, for all of us: in the same and different ways. Hold on. Be strong.

FEMA De-Values Home! 3-17-13

word devaluation on the display of a calculator with euro bills

A house is not a home. A house is a structure, a definable space, an estimate-able property, a piece of real estate that can be transferred, knocked down, flooded. A home is history, sensation, comfort. recollection, security, sanctuary. The survivors of Hurricane Sandy each had a home: lost a home, treasures, a lifestyle. Some had a house.

FEMA validates a house but not home. However, FEMA has formulated its own definition of a house. A house is a shell: walls, floors, heat, electric. It is stripped-down, patched-together, barely safe or sanitary, space: basic function. And as Hurricane Sandy destroyed everything that many survivors owned, FEMA forces them back into barely safe, barely functional, empty shells. These are the people who have not been forced back into houses without walls, floors, electric, heat or mold removal, because FEMA abandoned them without explanation. These are the people whose houses did not float away, were not condemned. The people forced back into functional empty shells are the lucky ones. FEMA has down-graded the American dream: it is the American nightmare.

Tens of thousands have been forced to live outside of their homes, with no place to belong, under constant threat of eviction, unwanted, uncomforted, unclothed, because their home is standing, but totaled: and FEMA gave them a laughable grant, without explanation, without mercy. They cannot repair their houses, because there is not enough money to repair even one room: there are no walls, floors, bathroom, kitchen, electric, heat, not even a toilet bowl. There are no contents, furniture, belongings, left. Their home is nothing, only fertile soil where mold and bacteria breed. Every day their house moves closer to being condemned. These people wander about, bewildered, frustrated, disillusioned, terrified, ignored by the systems, denied by the general public: a class alone, living in an alternate universe, created by the SuperStorm, not living at all, pacing putrid time.

I first experienced FEMA when Hurricane Sandy destroyed my house, terminated
my home: wiped out my past, present and future. Before that, I only knew of FEMA through media reports. I believed the promise: I believed it helped people. Hurricane Sandy left 200,000 Americans along the East Coast homeless and destitute. All of the survivors experienced FEMA or chose not to.

My house was insured for $300,000. It was totally paid off, except for $3,700. The contents were insured for $100,000. I lost all of my furniture, belongings, most of my clothes, $50,000 in medical equipment and $10,000 in office equipment. FEMA, all Insurance, County, and Fire Inspectors said my house was totaled, with great sympathy. In November, the County declared my house too dangerous to enter without a respirator, because of sewage and mold contamination, and inspected it from the front yard. Some inspectors called friends to help me, and even offered to come back and put up walls. The houses in my neighborhood sell extremely fast, because it is close to bus, train, highways and parkways, stores, the bike path to the beach, and Ocean Parkway to Jones Beach. The school district is excellent. Houses in my neighborhood are a great investment.

I didn’t live on the water. I didn’t live near the water. My neighborhood never flooded before. I lived there for 48 years. But, I lived right above the Cedar Creek Sewage Treatment Plant. The houses on the west side of the street are four-floor splits, plus a basement. Most, lost the basement: some, lost the family room also. The houses on my side of the street are one-floor ranches: we all lost everything. Salt water was not the worst! Sewage damage was throughout the house: it seems that it came up the toilet and also in the front door. Sewage was on top of my hospital bed in the living room. There is a storm sewer directly in front of my house. Many people in my neighborhood believe that the Sewage Treatment Plant malfunctioned. Everything was lost to sewage contamination: a horrific way to let go of your lifetime keepsakes and tiny treasures.

I was told by eyewitnesses: from 7 p.m. until 12 a.m. water rose rapidly up from the ground; a river rushed up the center of the street toward Merrick Road; 6 feet of water entered my house. Those who stayed, report it was terrifying: the violence, the power of the water. I had water and sewage damage up to 48″ above the floor. It was like a tornado hit inside of my house: furniture, equipment, appliances, belongings, objects great and small, were thrown around with alarming violence, smashed and encrusted with sewage. I cannot get the putrid, acrid stench of devastation out of my nostrils. My hospital bed went on fire. My front door was torn off. A cinder-block wall outside the side door was thrown against the house.

That is the reality of the event and the loss. The reality of the response and the help, are a life apart. The survivors must deal with both. Inadequate response for restoration by governmental agencies has turned this Natural Disaster into a National Tragedy in America, and it has become our national shame.

While everyone realized, at the end, that the storm was huge, damage was devastating, and the victims included hundreds of thousands of survivors, the government did not react in a timely or effective manner for the magnitude of the event: management, personnel, funding, housing, emergency survival and support services, were inadequate. Response of FEMA, the agency designated to manage the event and aid survivors, was so slow, that it was extremely detrimental to the victims.

There was no housing, no food, no gasoline, no electric. We were told that FEMA could not bring in trailers to house the homeless, because the area was so congested. They did not bring in gasoline. Without gasoline and operating gas stations you had to remain close to your property or wherever you were going to bed, because if you used up the gas in your car it would remain where it stalled. And, they were dragging abandoned cars away to remote dumping grounds. There was no food. Fast food stands and restaurants alike, were closed down. They had nothing to sell, and no way to cook it. There was no way for the public to cook food, because most people, even if they had homes, had no electricity and no heat for weeks. There was little food, and less water, in the few supermarkets that were open.

The Red Cross handed out sandwiches and hot dinners, blankets, and cleaning supplies, after a few days, in devastated neighborhoods and parks, if you could get to them. They had boxes of donated used clothes, because most of us lost our clothes and shoes. For months, the Red Cross and churches were the only source of nutrition for many. It turned out that the local churches would become the most solid source of support for housing, food, cleaning and sanitary products, counseling services, and, ripping out, building and renovation assistance.

Six weeks after the event, houses were stripped of contaminated furniture, belongings, walls, floors, and insulation: FEMA finally put in an appearance – inspection. The reality, the inspector’s report, and what FEMA translated into money, would not agree! The FEMA inspector spent 1 1/2 hours inside my house, measuring and taking pictures. She was sympathetic, said she put in a strong report, and reported the case to the Special Needs Hotline. Nevertheless, FEMA ignored my case for six more weeks, denied I was disabled for three months, claiming they never got paperwork from my insurance companies, paperwork that I submitted three times.

But it turns out the waiting was the easy part. Then came the rape of the survivors, the stripping-down and dehumanizing of Hurricane Sandy victims, the abandonment by America of those in need of help. After 2 1/2 to 3 months of waiting and believing in the system promising support, the grant letters started arriving. The grants were outlandish, ridiculous, pitiful. After all of the time, phone calls, paperwork and documentation that FEMA demanded, they were insulting, to our efforts to cooperate. Decisions would have been ridiculous, except that they were not decisions at all, because there were no explanations: only one or two words prefacing the dollar amount. Grant letters are generic: one form letter for all purposes, written so that it says absolutely nothing. There is absolutely no transparency. Dollar amounts are so outlandish as to be irrational. Not just for me, but for most! Grant amounts translate into no help, and leave a survivor with the inability to renovate his house and reclaim his life.

Over and over this sad story resonates, while the media reports that FEMA is awarding each home owner $30,900, and that if people apply for the SBA Loan, they can receive up to $40,000 more for their possessions. I was not allowed by FEMA to apply for the SBA loan, because I am disabled and make so little. I was not allowed to apply for the $10,000 Empire State Grant, because in order to apply you must first receive the maximum FEMA Grant. Not even close! The public thinks SuperStorm Sandy victims are being taken care of. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth!

My house was totaled. All repair estimates came in at $105,000. The estimates are for house repairs/renovation only. I also lost all of my furniture, belongings and appliances; $50,000 in medical equipment; $10,000 in office equipment. Nothing was covered, because it was a flood. When I get back into my house, it will be empty: they will all be empty. On 1-11-2013 FEMA sent me a Grant letter designating $5,035 for “Home Repair” and $7,989.51 for “Personal Property” (which of course must go toward house repairs), for a total of $13,483.86. When I opened the letter and read it, I could not breathe. My house is totaled and FEMA allotted $5,035 for home repairs! My eyes clouded over and the words went away. I shuddered, as Obama walked across my grave. I could not believe what I was reading. It was a mistake! Reality could not be this horrific. Was I dead and I just didn’t know it yet? But, it was true: the second half of our nightmare was upon us, those of us in the alternate universe.

I appealed the Grant Decision and requested Re-inspection of my house. FEMA made a farcical pretense at re-inspection, sending an Inspector and a “Disability Expert”, who stood by the car and talked to me. They prefaced this meeting by explaining that they were going to evaluate the access, adaptive equipment and medical equipment loss. I asked how they could do that, when the house was stripped and gutted: totally empty, except for a hole in the floor where the toilet used to be.. Nothing was left! Being an access expert myself, I knew that FEMA officials were making no sense at all with this explanation. But an Inspector went into the house alone, and refused to accept my pictures of the losses. The Disability Expert stood by the car trying to convince me to sign a blanket authorization that they could share all of my information with whoever they chose. When I refused, he called their Legal Department and tried to get me to talk to them on his cell. When I refused, they sent a short middle-aged pit bull who threatened that they would do nothing to help me if I did not sign the paper. I refused. FEMA shared my confidential information anyway: ever since I submitted financial papers to them, I have been getting “we know you are destitute” letters and emails.

The FEMA re-inspection awarded me an additional Repair Grant for my totaled house of $645.45. I was incredulous, but half expected it. I never thought it was a legitimate attempt to reevaluate, given the fuzzy rationale they verbalized for re-inspection. I tried to get an explanation. I was told the amount was “appropriate” and we could manage, with “free help” available. I am hearing this story over and over.

We, the survivors excused the waiting, the redundancy, inefficiency, ineptness, nasty people, unanswered telephones, constant threats, because of the magnitude of the event. We believed that FEMA was trying to help us: we trusted the system. We tolerated dysfunction within the system, lack of comprehension of the implications and impact of the event on real people. But we learned that to FEMA, people are numbers: houses are numbers: nothing more! FEMA workers are apathetic caricatures, propagating unremitting loss, hopelessness, helplessness: highly paid, transient, serial, disaster trainees, who depersonalize and dehumanize pathetic, tattered people in need. The survivors of Hurricane Sandy have learned that, in response to natural disaster, systems break their promises and fail. There is no help!

Presently, FEMA lacks transparency, logic, rational process and procedure, organization, focus, humanity: it is so out of touch with reality, human suffering, recovery, restoration, and hope, as to make it non-functional and irrelevant. It operates with personnel so transient, they lack continuity, it lacks consistency. It is an out-dated and irrelevant system that has lost sight of people, human suffering, and home.

FEMA must be investigated, re-organized, up-dated, monitored and made accountable. It leaves battered, bewildered, broken people in its wake, not from the event, but from the lack of assistance after maximum effort and cooperation by the survivor: lack of empathy, humanity and because of the apathy of the program.

Since Hurricane Sandy the meaning of home has changed forever for hundreds of thousands of Americans, made refugees by the destruction, and by what FEMA has forced them to return to: “functional space.”. Many are not structures, or are structures that are not safe, are toxic, hazardous, barely habitable: houses without walls and floors, kitchens, furnaces, bathrooms. Agencies will not even pay for mold removal. Houses are being patched together by laymen, and quickly fail in functional use. FEMA strives to get people out of the system as quickly as possible. There is no follow-up. Homeowners of lost or totaled homes are forced to move on to rented apartments, rooms, couches, houseboats, trailers, mobile homes, RVs, basements, garages, yards: inappropriate accommodations, not long-term solutions.

Grants for restoration are pitiful. The condition of houses is demoralizing and horrific. Many of us have been without a home for five months because FEMA gave us an unrealistic, outlandish, repair grant. Many people just abandoned their homes and moved off Long Island, because they have no money to restore their houses, and no options for help.

The program does not return survivors to some normalcy after disaster. FEMA actually prevents people from getting real help, by delays, false and misleading promises of aid, and untimely, inadequate to the point of absurdity, final grants. When they are finished giving us nothing for our homes and property, all the ‘free help” is gone, used up, worn out. It prevents resolution, by overwhelming survivors with paperwork, documentation and denials; repeatedly losing, misplacing paperwork: by using vague, private, covert codes and processes to maintain limitless proprietary power and generate unclear, inadequate, ambiguous, cryptic decisions. There is no help: there is no transparency.

I do not claim there are not professional people at FEMA who try to do the right thing. But they are high-ranking, inaccessible, bound by out-dated processes and procedures, and their commitment to the survivor moves on with their next assignment location. The system is designed to thwart contact and communication, recovery and resolution.

In the end, FEMA gives survivors laughable assistance and tells them to go find a way to help themselves. It tells people they can restore their homes with the pittance that FEMA allotted, plus free help. Realistically, Hurricane Sandy free help is scarce, unskilled, empty promises, filled-up answer machines, hotlines manned in other states by people who disclaim knowledge of aid programs: unresponsive programs, services, and agencies: non-help. Meanwhile, our homes sit vacant, growing mold and bacteria, being looted and stripped, and receiving exploitive offers of buy-outs of the land by house flippers. The system is designed to benefit everyone except the survivor of disaster. Materials that were donated for rebuilding were withheld from homeowners, and are now being sold to contractors at huge profits. Benefit monies that were raised by famous people and concerts were not passed on to survivors. Everyone is profiting from Hurricane Sandy, while the homeowners are victimized and abandoned by systems breaking promise.. FEMA fails.

FEMA devalues houses, allotting cryptic, unrealistic, pitiful grants for legitimate house repair and restoration necessary due to natural disaster: using out-dated processes and procedures to evaluate and decide. Therefore, FEMA devalues home, the bedrock of society: disrespects people, the strength of our country; destroys hope, neighborhoods, chunks of America; and the next generation, the children who lost their nest, their toys, their rock.

The system does not work. FEMA needs to be re-evaluated, reorganized, up-dated, re-designed, monitored and made accountable. Americans devastated by disaster, people, our neighbors, our neighborhoods, are broken, bewildered and expiring, because FEMA does not help them: does not validate home, promote restoration or recovery. Through FEMA, America is abandoning, failing her own people miserably. We are survivors of Hurricane Sandy: we are victims of FEMA.

The survivors cannot rebuild their homes, because, without money, for years the survivors are going to be trying to patch their houses, their lives, their lifestyles together, with spit and sea grass. And, everyone knows what happens to houses made of grass.

Give Me a Place to Stand and I will Move Mountains! – Hope on Hold. 2-24-13

Man pushing a boulder on a mountain

I become aware of a new day emerging, as sunshine bores through crevices in room-darkening hotel curtains, searing the stiff cloth with truth. My eyes reluctantly open to face the light, as I struggle to keep them shut, and reality at bay. I am weeping, spontaneously, uncontrollably, from imprints that won’t fade, clutching scattered slivers of my life with bleeding fingers, stroking sweet memories turned rancid and grim. I am exhausted with the weight of it. Tears are the only constant now. I awake each morning to ghosts, screaming uninhabitable addresses, unthinkable truth, shadows of tormented homeless people. I am awake.

I grow sicker each day, without the benefit of my medical equipment: for I am disabled, and every day is one more crisis to bear, until the last: and then we have to deal with FEMA too. When you are weak, terminal or old, time is a vulture poised to gash and gobble your flesh: you must stand stronger than the others, focus on the horizon, and keep walking.

My weary heart screams, “I want to go home. I want to belong. I want to do relevant things again. I want to do relevant things again! I want my treasures. I want people to remember me before I fell. I want to remember me before my world went black.” I want to slay the nightmares, but my weapons were mangled and swept away.

And reality screams back at me, “You have no home! Your house is an empty shell: without walls, without floors, heat, electric, a toilet bowl, a kitchen, without furniture and belongings. Your house is without comfort and security, growing black mold, foul smells and unknown strains of bacteria. Your house is a wasteland, devoid of history. You never existed. Apocalypse! You are chewing rancid morsels of sweet yesterdays, and gathering scraps of sewage soaked memory. It is disease. It will take you down. You will perish, unless you let it float away. It cannot be saved.”

I look into the mirror and I see a woman wrinkled beyond recognition by one fleeting blow. I see a crowd of faces, lost and wandering, dreading the dawning of each new day. I see a child without toys, hysterical, because there is no place left to play. I see pets squirming, in boxes, cars and blankets, hidden away. I see a walled-off class of people, the Hurricane Sandy homeless, survivors not victims, traumatized: keepers of scattered slivers of lives shattered forever by grim reality, disillusioned, hope on hold, slipping away, looking for tools to rebuild, cast off, ignored.

I waiver unbelieving through a bleak mine-field between reality and hopefulness. Every opportunity for aid, every promise, explodes and disintegrates: there is no help. There is only disorder and apathy.

I see cash as the great equalizer, money for repairs, for hope, for tomorrow: great mounds of money lie between obliterated lives and home. People who worked their lives away are unexpectedly destitute, in the hands of others, with no control of their own fate, living in their garages, houses without walls, and their yards: desperate to retain some autonomy. I see the survivors creating their own positive outcomes, and reaching out to help each other: the human spirit rising above the failures of the system.

People require hope. Without hope, there is no reason to get up in the morning and choose to go on. America is nation-building in countries far away, and forgot its own, the people of the SuperStorm: who wander streets alone, hungry, disbelieving, contemplating suicide. Hurricane Sandy Recovery has become a National Tragedy: our national shame; a sad chronicle of governmental failure.

But we are a nation of mongrels: immigrants all mixed together in one pot, enhanced by the qualities of each, forged by centuries of pioneers, mellowed by history. If you give us a place to stand, we will move mountains!

FEMA Shock! 2-25-13

Emergency Preparedness Checklist

A hotel room is traditionally a small space with cheesy furniture, stiff white towels, and multi-colored indoor-outdoor carpet that looks spotless but harbors microscopic critters. It is a facade, an appearance, a caricature of home. However, for a person who has lost everything, a hotel room is comfort, warmth, security, a link to independence, sanctuary. It is the only stability left. FEMA calculates hotel room space in time of disaster by price points and enforceable codes, and people as movable pieces on a game board that expires every two weeks.

It was almost four months to the day since I became a vagrant: roaming through the bowels of hell, searching through sewage for my treasures, a pawn in FEMA’s game of unrecoverable life. I was holding it together. But I was hardly all right. I entered the covered walkway to my hotel room, at the hour when waning winter sunshine brings a subtle chill to the day, returning from a day in the yard of my mold infested home. My clothes were shabby and stained, hair unruly, and my hands were vile. I was exhausted from crying. It was a typical post-Sandy day. I just wanted to go inside and scrub the day off.

A man in blue jeans approached me in the distance. I was unable to see his face, but he had grey hair and glasses. We met at the bottom of the black stone staircase, just outside my door. He had a tattered, desperate look. I immediately recognized him. He was one of us, the survivors – those who had lost everything in the SuperStorm of 2012, Hurricane Sandy.

He rounded the last post of the iron fence to the parking lot, looked me straight in the eye with compelling urgency, and said, “You’re FEMA aren’t you?”

I was startled by his recognition of me, and flattered. He had looked at me, not through me. I responded quietly, “Yes.”

We, each of us, understood the bond.

He was was obviously frightened. “FEMA’s paying for your room?” he said without introduction.

I understood his urgency immediately. I said, “Yes.”

“I have to leave. I got a call from FEMA.”

Everything that he was feeling, I had felt: the desperation, the fear, the vulnerability, the sheer terror of being told that you don’t belong, that you can’t stay, but you have nothing to go back to and no place to go forward; that empty, gut-wrenching reality that you did everything right, and now everything is so wrong. His fear triggered the advocate in me. It was 1970, when I saw a man in a wheelchair locked out of the public library on a cold rainy day.

“Was your house damaged?” I said.

“I lost everything.”

“I am so sorry,” I said. “Well, you are covered. They will pay for your hotel room.”

He repeated that FEMA had called to tell him he had to leave the hotel. “I have no place to go.”

“On Friday they extended the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) Program, the
Hotel Assistance Program, until March 10.” I said. “It is o.k. You lost your house. You can’t go home. You are covered.” I was so sure. It was the right thing.

His face was blank, unbelieving. Insecurity was so much a part of our lives now.
“Where did you live?” I inquired.

” Lindenhurst. Cuomo was standing right in front of my house.” he replied.

“I’m sorry.” I said sadly. I knew Lindnhurst was really bad. But we all had really bad stories and really sad hearts. Oddly, none of us felt sorry for ourselves, just sorry.

“Listen to me,” I said, being pushy, “You don’t have to leave!” I was now an authority, giving out permissions.

He moved nervously about, looking for something solid to hold onto. “An insurance inspector who used to be a FEMA inspector told me early on, FEMA is going to deny you and deny you, and you have to keep appealing. Just keep appealing. And you will eventually get what you should.”. I told him. I had learned by dealing with FEMA that this was the truest advice anyone gave me.

But, he wasn’t convinced. He wasn’t ready. He was too much in the moment. We stood there together, him and I, trying to find some measure of security in fragments of information, success and failure, each of us had.

I told him to call FEMA, go to the FEMA website.

“Go to the American Red Cross.” I was running out of viable suggestions. They were sparse.

“The Red Cross told me they would help me, except, I am not working. If I was working, they would help me,” he explained. He told me he was a utility worker who did not work for two months each winter because of the weather. He said he was going back to work on March 11. He only needed the hotel room until March first.

“I don’t work,.” I insisted, like it would help. “I am disabled.”

“That’s different,” he explained.

I asked him what the FEMA caller said, because I knew they are all over the place, in professionalism, accuracy, and purpose. I knew that their communications were haphazard, confusing: lacking transparency and clarity.

He said he wasn’t sure. She wasn’t clear. He couldn’t understand her. That sounded right! Even the messages FEMA left were difficult to decipher. The letters were ludicrously unclear. They were an unfocused, transient bunch of people from all over: jabbing facts at you, impossible to locate afterward, moving on to another location before clarity or resolution, never following through. FEMA was an odd collage of documents and disorder: frustrating, accomplishing little. I suspected that he was a victim of FEMA shock, the trauma caused by the actions FEMA takes against the Hurricane Sandy victims, and its inaction.

I told him that it was announced on television on Friday that the Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program, the Hotel Assistance Program, was extended. That was the way it had worked. Every two weeks everybody covered by the Hotel Program was under threat of being thrown out into the street with no place to go. So far, at each two-week deadline it was announced that the Program was extended. Rumor is that this will continue until it is warm enough for people to live in their yards. Hearsay is that people in Breezy Point are living outside in tents in the winter cold. We each know people who were forced to go back into their homes without walls, without floors,without heat or kitchens. We each lost confidence in the system because of the way it treated us and those around us. We have watched FEMA consistently ignore, abandon, and devalue the survivors of Hurricane Sandy, and convert Recovery into a National Tragedy and the survivors into disbelieving, wandering refugees.

I told him the television said they were supposed to call each person to notify him that he was extended. I said maybe that was the call he received that was unclear. I never got a call.

I suggested that he call FEMA to clarify what it was about. He said he would go into the FEMA Headquarters in Lindenhurst tomorrow to get an answer.. That seemed like a good plan. I suspected that the call he got was really to inform him he was covered for another two weeks.

Sadly, I heard little that FEMA did that was positive, helpful or kind. I heard only terrible experiences of people being rejected, denied, devalued, depersonalized, threatened, dismissed, and thrown out. There was a current of frustration and hostility toward FEMA circulating among survivors. And there was misunderstanding by the public of the reality of the Recovery process. There was a strong bond among survivors for each other: for we were a new class of people, middle-class homeless people by natural event, looking for a way back, for stability, security, help, support, equity, justice; receiving nothing but indifference and callousness; supporting, maintaining and helping each other.

“Nobody is helping us.” he said. “Nobody cares!”

“I know,” I said.

Because that is the way it feels: everywhere you turn, a door slams in your face. You are told the money is gone, you can’t stay, you don’t belong. That is the experience of the survivors I meet! It doesn’t matter if they have no place to go, or small children, are sick, cold, or broke. I know that there are caring people out there. I just can’t see them..

There is little help, aid or support within the Recovery System: the systems are disorganized, unfocused, illogical, and uncaring. The media reports that each Sandy homeowner victim is receiving $30,900 in aid. I have met not one person who received such a grant. And, if you had Flood Insurance and paid premiums for that insurance, FEMA deducts that amount from any repair grant they allow to fix your home. People who had no Flood Insurance, received immediate pay-outs that far exceed those of insured survivors. So, instead of benefitting from being responsible, homeowners wait months longer than the uninsured, and receive a laughable pay-out.

But the most disheartening, is the public’s indifference to the plight of Hurricane Sandy survivors. This was a “massive event.” And, agencies and ordinary people are hiding behind that catch-phrase to go on with their lives and not be inconvenienced by those who are hurting and abandoned. There is so much gut-wrenching suffering among survivors, so much sadness, loss, and longing. And, the world went on without us. Nobody cares!

Locally, I see a divide at Merrick Road. The people below Merrick Road on the south shore of Long Island sustained loss and devastation in varying degrees, depending on how high their house sat on land. Some, lost basements and furnaces; some lost playrooms and garages; first floors; living rooms, kitchens and bathrooms. People who lived directly on the water, some of their houses were totally spared and some actually floated away. Many people, either because they lived on the water, or, like me, lived nowhere near the water but lived by a Sewage Treatment Plant and had a massive sewage surge throughout the house, lost everything. The survivors have an unspoken bond, and watch out for each other.

But sadly, the people north of Merrick Road never looked back. They prepared for the storm like the rest of us, but when their homes were spared, they watched the news, and then went on with their lives. A few took in friends or family who lost their homes, and they are heroes. But most went on, preparing for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and left the churches to feed and house the refugees, with no thought of what the holidays must be like for us. Christmas was the same as it always was for them, because a geographic quirk spared their homes from the “post-hurricane cyclone” that gobbled up our lives. I can only observe what I see.

So here we sit: the utility worker from Lindenhurst: the couple next door from Point Lookout with three screaming children; the 30-something couple on the other side of me, hiding their Yorkie under the covers when there is a knock on the door; the woman upstairs from Long Beach who fell in the shower and broke her wrist and ribs; the elderly church worker from Nassau Shores with an old car filled with carefully-wrapped antiques; and me from a Seaford sewer surge, who listens to their stories. We are each here, living in a hotel room begrudged to us, clutching a bag of our tiny treasures, in FEMA shock.

The utility worker walked past my room this afternoon and told me that FEMA did indeed throw him out: unemployed, with no place to go, refusing to give him any explanation. Everyone who leaves like this, takes a little piece of my heart with them. And I know that there, but for spinal cord injury, goes me. And I wonder if I am next!

Hotel Room Appeal submitted to FEMA. 12-29-12

FEMA
1-800-621-3362. FAX. 1-800-827-8112
DisasterAssistance.gov

Fema I.D. No. 41-1371304
Subject: URGENT. Long-term Housing
Medical Condition: Spinal Cord Injury with Severe Autonomic Dysfunction, Cervical Myelopathy, Costochondritis, Intercostal Neuritis, Occipital Neuralgia, L-S Radiculopathy, Multiple Disc Lesions, Post Traumatic Neuropathy. Pulmonary Fibrosis.

To Whom it may Concern:

On October 29, 2012, i was a permanently disabled individual, severely limited by symptoms of a spinal cord injury sustained 35 years ago, fully functioning within the closed environment of my home, set up to accommodate my specific physical needs. I was in intractable pain. I used an electric wheelchair, oxygen, a service dog, and was in a hospital bed 80-90 % of the day. I was an ADA/Disability Advocate of 35 years, who has facilitated amazing changes for disabled individuals.

As you can imagine, the sequence of events since the sewage surge hit my home have caused me great physical pain and functional disruption. I slept in my car for 10 days. Then I was able to get into the Best Western at Bar Harbor on Sunrise Highway in Massapequa Park, NY. I have a room with a bathroom and parking outside the door. My oxygen is set up here and my physical therapist visits twice a week for 2 hours each session. I am warm and comfortable. My home was set up like this. I cannot function in an apartment.

I have been told by numerous persons within the system that Fema has the capability to allow me to stay here at their expense, because of my special needs. I provided two medical reports to the Fema Inspector. If these are not in my file I will fax them to you.

I am asking Fema to allow me to stay at this hotel, where I am comfortable and my needs are being met, until my severely damaged home is restored and livable. Please take this request seriously, because there is no way I can fit into the housing standards set up for able-bodied individuals pertinent to Disaster and Recovery. Be assured that I am highly motivated to recover the level of comfort, functioning and productivity I enjoyed prior to October 29, 2012. With your validation of and cooperation with my special needs, I feel that will happen.

Thank you sincerely for your consideration and anticipated help.
Sincerely,
Wendy Wagner

********FEMA consistently refused to answer this Appeal, although I was told repeatedly that it was being considered.