Hitting a Brick Wall. 9-27-14

Hitting a Brick Wall. 9-27-14

Hitting a brick wall isn’t really very scary, when bureaucrats have been building brick walls in your face for two years. A sudden oncoming embankment at 50 mph triggered defiance in me, at that amorphous fate that picked me tonight to splatter. It was a metaphor for what my life has become at the hands of others: and possibly avoiding it is foreshadowing of things to be.

So it was to be the end for me on a murky stretch of Sunrise Highway just east of Carlton Avenue at 8:30 p.m. on a misty Fall Saturday night. It was an end I refused to accept. A blood clot, an autonomic storm, or the melanoma, maybe, but this, I would not tolerate.

It was the perfect end to a perfect day. By nightfall, I had totally forgotten where I was in the horrific timeline of my life, for one sweet day. This morning, I decided to seek some normalcy, after almost two years isolated in bed by intractable pain in a small dark hotel room, peering through the horrible distorted haze my life had become at the hands of FEMA and the Disaster Recovery System: which has tormented, dismissed and abandoned tens of thousands of east coast Americans for two onerous years in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

I was an advocate for disabled people, an ADA Consultant, a hero to many, before SuperStorm Sandy blasted all of our lives into slivers of contaminated memories, muck, and hideous bureaucratic incompetence: before FEMA disrespected us all. I awoke today wanting to touch the person I was before the sewage surged into my comfortable home, contaminating everything I owned with putrid slime and importing bullies in government boots into our neighborhoods. I longed to hold yesterday in my hand, to validate my past, if only for a moment. I decided to go to the East End and inspect a Village for disabled access, like everything was normal.

I drove the same route east that I had driven for all the years of my volunteer work on the East End. But I was different now, a stranger in my van: scarred, profoundly sad, numb, disbelieving, so pensive: the last two years running in front of my car. I was desperate to shed the ugliness of bureaucrats and the insanity of the Disaster Recovery System I was forced to operate within since Hurricane Sandy. I longed to recover the contentment and security of my life before Sandy. I longed to recover me: if only for one day.

With every mile I drove away, I felt the muck of my mutilated life crust and drop away: shedding layers of indignity and abuse. I was in the moment, with shafts of sunshine and balmy breezes prying at the edges of my profound sadness, soothing me, reviving me.

Miles of lush rejuvenated scrub Pines stretched along the highway, recalling the Sunrise Fire of 1995, a series of major brush fires in the Westhampton area in late August, that razed 7,000 acres of the East End Pine Barrens and closed down Sunrise Highway for days. I remember smoke engulfed the area with days of fear the fire would spread to East End towns. This stretch of highway brought back the fires for me. As I passed Shirley, I always remembered the mysterious explosion over the Atlantic Ocean near East Moriches, of TWA’s Boeing 747 Flight 800 on July 17, 1996: reports of missile strikes, cover-ups, recovery, memorials and monuments on the beach at Smith Point County Park. I remembered the crowds of rescue vehicles and boats, months of mystery, conflicting eyewitness reports and major inconvenience.

The land was reverberating its history, triggering memories of my involvement in the pattern of the past. I forgot where I was in time and suddenly realized life is not all about FEMA. There is life outside of FEMA Hell. The breeze dried tears I spontaneously shed for the loss of my place in line. Layers of the hypocrisy and hatefulness of others toward me fell away. In the distance, I saw the person I lost as a result of the horrible failures of the Recovery Systems and the bureaucratic maze of incompetence after Hurricane Sandy.

Lost in thought, time passed quickly. I pulled into the Village peaceful, anticipating a productive afternoon of purposeful work in quiet solitude, inspecting access accommodations. But, I was immediately reminded that this was a day to celebrate Fall harvests. There was a banner stretched above Main Street announcing the event, and what seemed like thousands of people lined the sidewalks, here to party on this exquisitely beautiful day. I was a wounded warrior walking through the Mardi Gras: returning from two years isolated in one dark hotel room with officials of FEMA and NYRising bashing me.

Hoards of well dressed people walked across the intersection I designed, in the walkway I relocated, down the curb cuts I made safe for them, using the traffic lights I timed to accommodate a wheelchair user. They didn’t know the work that went into that one intersection, or who I was. I was ingrained in the history of this place, coming home to nourish my broken heart.

I knew the people here would not help me to go home: most were tourists, here to soak in the ambiance, perhaps some seeking solace too, like me, in a beautiful place. I knew the townspeople would not help me, despite seventeen years of expertise I gave to the Village: because when my house went down, I put fliers around the community and spoke to people, to no avail. I was beyond looking for someone to rescue me. I belonged here.

I went to the disabled parking space created for me behind Village Hall, but they were renovating Village Hall, and my space was full of construction materials. I evaluated and modified architect plans for access for this renovation years ago. I drove to Main Street and parked in the disabled space on the corner of the Lane and Main Street.

As I exited my Rampvan, there were people everywhere, living today, using the walkways, parking, intersections I designed: in flip flops and shorts, holding hands, laden with purchases, pushing strollers, bikes, carrying antiques and large paintings, colorful balloons, popcorn, ice cream cones, walking dogs on leashes. I felt my people, without homes, walking beside the beautiful people, shivering and invisible. I was one of them. I crossed the intersection, while singers on every corner, with guitars, drums, and keyboards, filled the Village with melody.

I rode slowly west on the Lane, homeless and wounded, reluctant to be visible, watching life go by. Joyful people looked at me like I was one of them. I loved them for their innocence. I wanted anonymity and acceptance today. Tomorrow was time enough for truth and pain.

As I traveled west, waves of people crowded past my large powerful wheelchair on the narrow sidewalk. Every one of them looked me in the eye and said “Good Day.” I was in awe of the moment: hoards of ambling people were open and sweet and only wanting to relax on this brilliant Fall day. I was here: now. They validated a part of life that I had not known for a very long time and forgot existed. I decided to absorb the moment, and to make a second pass through the Village later for my access inspection.

Coming toward me was a double stroller, pushed by a stunning woman with long silky hair. A newborn wrapped in pale blue fleece slept angelic in the right-side
seat. In the left, a bouncing, giggling toddler in lavender overalls held the leash of a large, dignified, meticulously-groomed black poodle. The dog wore a red t-shirt with the letters “Baby Sitter” written in black, with a red bow above each ear. As I passed, the man smiled at my maltese and said, “Adorable.” I smiled at their silly poodle taking himself so seriously, and forgot that I was homeless, and alone.

Across the street, by the Art Gallery, several voices and guitar performed too loud, “Who will Stop the Rain,” as fans sat on the wall visualizing gentle showers. My mind filled with tidal waves, long dark corridors of Disaster Recovery and mold. I needed to move on.

Two laughing girls in pink jeans skipped across the sidewalk in front of the Confectionery, swinging, twirling, tossing their long yellow curls. I saw that their faces were painted beautifully with pretty delicate pink and white flowers. There was a sign that read, “Face Painting.”. I loved them for their uninhibited joyfulness and their innocence. But relentlessly the children of the Storm back in FEMA Hell were tramping through my mind: watching their parents slowly die of want and bureaucratic abuse, trying to get back home. We all needed a day in the sunshine.

As I approached the park, I noted signs for the restrooms I designed were newly painted. I was startled by a tangled crowd of people strewn across the lawn enjoying the festivities.. I was swamped with visuals. People and concessions, wandered all the way to the lake. Strollers criss-crossed the park, as children ran, arms outstretched, with delighted abandon. Children sucked on candy apples, ice cream cones and cotton candy. Five young boys ran in circles in the middle of the lawn, playing tag with a barking Golden Retriever. Two tiny Yorkies, dragging streamers, ran up to me and looked up. Pollyanna stood up, ready to play. They turned and ran back to their security, satisfied my mass was not a threat. The Retriever stuck his silken head under my left arm, snuggled and slobbered a moment, then ran away. The sweet fragrance of corn on the cob and sauerkraut teased me. I was hungry. People sang Ballads, Rock, and songs of the Sixties, all mixed together in one loud divergent symphony, overstimulating. A woman from the pet store across the way chatted about my service dog and invited me to participate in the Pet Parade in three weeks. Everywhere, everyone acknowledged me with pleasant conversation. No one knew that I was different: homeless.

So it went. It was a golden day of friendly people and sensory stimulation. I was cautiously happy, because I knew that I did not own a place in life right now. But it felt good to walk through the world of the living, if only for a day.

Main Street was more of the same, pleasant people sitting at tables, eating meals outside at curbside restaurants along the sidewalk, with friendly dogs beside them on leashes: people smiling at me, not away. It was difficult to receive unconditional acceptance, after being battered and dismissed for two years in the Disaster Management System. But I was here, now, and I never wanted to leave.

In front of Village Hall people sat on bales of hay, on benches, on the sidewalk, while a woman sang Cher’s song “You Haven’t Seen the Last of Me.” She sang, “Feeling broken Barely holding on But there’s just something so strong Somewhere inside me. And I am down, but I’ll get up again. Don’t count me out just yet.”. I knew she was singing just to me, so I stopped and listened with appreciation. I felt like the crowd understood.

Before I left the Village, I went to Dune Road to complete my access inspections, and rested in my van on a hill overlooking the ocean, while my service dog hung her tiny head out the window and fell asleep to the hissing of the ocean across the sandy shore. I inspected the phone booths I had put out on Dune Road, and was proud that I had fought so hard for them. I watched Cranes and Osprey glide across the marshland as far as I could see, and horseshoe crabs move like magnets in unison in the sea grass beneath my feet beside Road D: a phenomenon I look forward to witnessing each fall. The bright sun fell low over Dune Beach and closed its eyes on a day well done. As I was leaving Dune Road, miniature deer nibbled at the lush lawns of sea-side estates: I was honored, peeking into their secret sanctuary, witness to their vulnerability.

As I drove away from the solace of familiar environments, filled with the nourishment of blue skies, the rhythm of the ocean, the chatter of friendly people, and productive work, I was content. I listened to Bobby Vinton and sucked on hot cinnamon candies. Pollyanna was fast asleep under a pink bunny blanket in her car bed beside me, exhausted from being adored all day by strangers.

Riding west, back to SuperStorm Sandy homelessness, to the place where I belonged before the storm but is uninhabitable now, felt cold. The trip back home was usually a time of sweet reflection: replaying the day. The East End turns very black after the sun sets, and no matter how delightful is the day, once darkness falls, I always want to go home. But, by the time I get to Babylon, it feels like I am at a carnival, with all the bright lights and busy, colorful businesses on Sunrise Highway and, I long to return to the Long Island “country.”. Today was different. With every mile, I rode closer to life on hold: to the horrific reality of the failed Disaster Recovery System in America, to FEMA Hell, to NYRising litany of broken promises. As night descended, the friendly faces of strangers celebrating the Fall season, was juxtaposed against abandonment of Sandy Survivors. Reality always resurfaces when the light of day fades.

I was driving in traffic moving smoothly along at the speed limit, when without warning the gross hand of fate turned the path in front of me into hellfire. Suddenly the car in front of me swerved to the left and sped away. It seemed strange, until I saw directly in front of me in the road, looming unavoidable, two large jagged metal objects that looked like file cabinets: in my face! I braked, but not completely because there were cars behind me. I had no recourse! Head on collision was imminent. I wondered what idiot dropped these off a truck onto the roadway and kept driving with total disregard for others. I was angry at incompetence and apathy.

The cars around me sped away. My van lurched forward and I swerved to the right, seemingly out of control. I heard all my salvaged belongings falling off the rear seat. I was not afraid. After living the last two years in FEMA Hell, I had no fear. I was in survivor mode. It was a mine field. I just missed the huge metal objects, swerving toward the cement wall. I had nowhere to go: no time to think. I braced for collision I could not avoid. Was this the end of me? I held tight onto the steering wheel of the lurching van, and refused to let go. I took all the hatefulness and injustice directed at me in the last two years navigating the Disaster Recovery System, and channeled it into defiance. I would not let go!. Holding tight, I swerved to the left, just enough to narrowly miss the wall: finding a path between the metal objects and the wall, not quite wide enough. It seemed like hours, but it was only moments: a lifetime. I felt a blow. I knew I was hit.

But, I kept my hands firmly clutching the wheel, anticipating the final blow, trying to navigate the crevice between the offending objects and the concrete wall, as I had navigated through the maniacs at FEMA. I felt strangely calm and in control. I would not allow the last two years of my life in FEMA Hell to be the story of my life.

In the final analysis, hitting a brick wall is nothing, after being walled up behind the brick walls of the horrific Disaster Recovery System in America. There is nothing worse than losing control of your life, through no fault of your own, to corruption, incompetents, profiteers and egotists in important jobs. Brick walls!

I heard a loud crack. I waited for an explosion, oblivion. But there was only the road, and me: and a direction for me to choose. I chose Home! My mind was clear. The van was weaving away from obstacles. My path was clear. I held the wheel so tight it seemed it would break. My eyes were fixed on the path home. I was invincible.

The road was dark. I was alert. I wanted to stop and look at the damage, but I was afraid someone might hurt me on the dark road. My chest hurt terrible. My foot was on the gas and I kept it there. I called to inform authorities of the obstacles in the roadway.

I was driven by one thought, “I want to go home.”

I pulled into the brightly lit hotel parking lot, afraid to look at my van, but needing to just the same. The thought of dealing with fixing the damage, in addition to dealing with the inept disaster management system, was too much to think about tonight. I turned, in order to transfer into my wheelchair, and realized for the first time that everything was pinned against my seat, the wheelchair being held from me by a blue ice cooler cracked in half. The back bench seat was tilted forward, jammed upside down by the ceiling. All of my belongings were piled against me, having cascaded from the seat onto the wheelchair. One of the leg rests to my power chair was cracked. The van was a jumble of yesterday: odds and ends of a life put on hold by natural disaster and bureaucratic incompetence, hopefully unbroken, because they were packed in styrofoam.

I felt grateful as I piled boxes all over the front seats, and others pulled the broken seat off the ceiling.. After much effort, the seat swung into a horizontal position, obviously bent and out of place. I put the suitcases and blankets back on the seat, unjammed my wheelchair, sopped up ice water on the floor, lifted Pollyanna from her fleecy nest, and exited the vehicle. I was anxious to see the external damage to my wheelchair van.

I scanned the front of the van, the side, the hood, the other side, the doors. There was no gaping hole, no smashed fenders, no broken lights. I was confused. There were huge obstacles in the road on my way home. They hit me hard. I held on tight. I would not let them vanquish me.

I got a flashlight and rode around the van once more, meticulously inspecting every inch for evidence: front, back, hood, both sides. On the edge of the side panel in front of the left tire on the drivers side, there was a deep, ruler-straight seven-inch gouge imprinted, but not cut all the way through: a scar. An inch below that, perfectly parallel, was a second three-inch gouge. It was obvious the corner of the file.cabinet had clipped me as I navigated between it and the cement wall, leaving a graphic reminder that reaction works. I closed my eyes and whispered, “Thank you God!” three times. I wondered why God gave me this one.

At daylight, I rushed out to look at my van, wanting to validate that something really happened. The two cuts looked like deliberately-placed deep knife wounds. But, overnight each had developed a black line down it’s center, that looked strangely like a scab. Was healing possible?

NYRecreate, I want to go home,please . . . .. 8-26-14

I want to go home, please … 8-26-2014

It was a sprawling building with entrances on all four sides and a great abundance of parking, but no legal handicapped parking. There was no sign inside or out, designating the location of the new NYRecreate Offices. I was told later when they are “up and running” and decide on a name, they will put a sign up.

So, while I knew the suite number, I had no indication which one of the six doors to use. I found a human who told me their suite was inside the north door. There was a high curb that jarred and twisted my wheelchair axle. None of the doors were accessible. As I entered the second hallway I was confronted by eight hefty carpeted steps. Barbed wire! Half an hour, multiple directors, multiple outside entrances later, I passed through the glass doors to an unassuming NYRecreate office.

I spent the next two hours sobbing, sitting in the conference room discussing my case with the coldest manager I ever met. She said all the right things. But, she never blinked. She offered no unsolicited information. She told me she was working very long hours, but when I asked what she was doing, she said listening to homeowners like me. It was obvious, and she admitted, she had absolutely nothing to offer anyone who needed help.

I was snot down to my knees, oozing into my mouth, dripping onto my blouse, from crying. Finally, I asked her if she had a tissue. She said, “They are out in the waiting room.” She never moved. It was the strangest reaction. I continued weeping, all slobbery, as she sat stoically observing me like I was a bird in a cage: representing disaster management.

I told her I came here unannounced because since Pro lost the bid and the new company took over, and we got letters that we have new case managers, no one is answering phone calls or emails. She said Pro was not gone. She said that the reason emails have not been answered is because the new company came in expecting to get up and running and use Pro’s email system. But Pro would not let them, so, those email addresses that were sent to us all in letters of Introduction were always invalid. The email that will supposedly get to a caseworker is: your caseworker@nysandyhelp.ny.gov. I asked why we were never notified of this and she said, because they are not “up and running.” I asked why we were not notified they had moved, and she said, “We sent letters out three days after we moved.” I said that was odd.

I told her that everyone seems to be on vacation and that word is that they will not be doing business until mid October. She asked where I heard that. I said Facebook. She said, “Don’t listen to anything on Facebook. No one has spoken to me.”

I asked if the new company is operational. She said something about the contract not being settled, that Pro won’t let go. Issues must be resolved. I asked why. She said, “Because they are greedy.”

I did not understand. I said “Well, why don’t you do something?. Why don’t you go to the Governor: tell him what is going on.”

She said, “I can’t go to the Governor. I work here.”

I said, “No one is paying my hotel. I have no money. I need to go home. When are you going to be operational?” I was crying. I said, “I want to go home. I am getting sicker every day. I need to go home. People are suffering so much: so much suffering. People are living in gutted houses. Children are living in moldy homes. People are dying. So many people have died, from neglect: from waiting too long. It is horrific! Is that what they want, for us all to die?”

She said, “Why would they want that?”

I said, “Because it would save the state a lot of money.”

She said, “I don’t think that is what they want.”

I told her the story about the Governor running away from reporters asking him to talk to me after the Rally in Holbrook: that he jumped into a car and sped away from Sandy Survivors and media running after him, after I got blocked by stairs. I said it was a cowardly thing to do to a lady in a wheelchair who had formally requested through his Albany Office to meet with him.

She said robotically over and over in response to my questions, “We are in a transition period. When the issues are resolved, we will take care of your case.”

I said, “When will that be? How long is that? I need to go home! People are suffering. We all need to go home.”

She said over and over, “I have no idea. We are undergoing a transition.”

I said, “So you are not operating.”

She said, “I am here every day. I am meeting with homeowners. I am listening to them. I am working very hard.”

I said, “You are listening but you can not do anything. You are on hiatus.”

She got very agitated and said that was not correct. “Hiatus infers we are absent, not here. That is not the case. We are working every day.”

I said, “So you are working. But you are impotent. You are in transition and can do nothing until the issues with Pro are resolved. You have absolutely no idea how long that will take?”

She said, “That is correct.”

Barbed wire!

NYRecreate, Are U In There? 8-5-2014

NYRecreate, Are U In there: 8-5-2014

Constant excruciating pain is my reality, from loss of $50,000 in medical equipment during SuperStorm Sandy over 21 months ago. It is August, and with damaged temperature control due to severe autonomic dysfunction from SCI, I am at extreme hazard in hot humid weather. I am living in a hotel room: not home. When I need to go out in my electric wheelchair, I must take supplies stored in my wheelchair van out, and put them in the hotel room. When someone is coming to visit me, I must put those items back into the van. This is time-consuming and difficult: a small price to pay for a place to be. My electric wheelchair must be kept in the hotel room, because the battery discharges quickly in the elements. My garage drowned. So, when I need to go out, I must charge my wheelchair and move it through the narrow hotel room door, out into my Rampvan.

Invariably the chair veers out of control when I gun it to get over the marble threshold, and I gash the door. I touch up the white metal surface with a paint pen before I leave, and usually again when I return. Before I leave, I place orange cones in two parking spaces, hoping that no one will move them and claim the spaces.before I get back, or take the cones home once more. I hope my key card does not turn red when I return, because I cannot get to the office in the wheelchair. Pulling out of the parking space, I know for sure that I will never ever be as comfortable or secure as I was on October 28, 2012, making 100 meatballs to freeze for Christmas buffet in my warm, fragrant kitchen. And I know that nobody gets it, or cares!

All this is only relevant to illustrate that it is not simple for me to go out into the world, living in a hotel room without what I need to function with SCI. The systems are harsh, inflexible, and irrationally judgmental.. They circulate paperwork that I am “difficult,” “hard to please,” and “uncooperative” if I voice what I require. In the horrific world of Disaster Programs and Agencies, different needs translate to a person who is “uncooperative.” If you hold up the line, they make you pay for it!

I am in my van heading for NYRecreate in Farmingdale to deliver the Independent Appraisal I am required to submit to Appeal my Acquisition Offer. I breathe a long deep sigh of relief that I made it this far, and I want to go home. But, home is gone! Comfort is gone! Security is gone! There is cement all around me. I follow the line of a faux stone wall to Sunrise Highway, easing very slowly down the parking lot exit ramp so that my Rampvan does not bottom out. I remember my birthday six weeks after I got my van. My birthday present was a sidewalk the width of my yard, and a ramp from the street to my driveway, because my Rampvan was totally unable to enter or exit my own property. I was so happy and grateful for that ramp, and all the structural access modifications that were installed in my house and property. That was my norm. I was not different there. I was accepted for what I am. I am crying now, driving.

I cry every time I venture into my post Sandy world. There is barbed wire everywhere, walling me off from people who did not live through Sandy, walling me in to failing Programs and Agencies spewing incompetence and fraud, slashing me as I try to move forward, binding me to the rubble of yesterday, piercing hope. When I am inside the hotel room, I have very little that is mine. But I also have no visuals of the world I knew. When I go out, and I see familiar places, it cuts me deep with what I lost. When I go to a store, everywhere, I see what I need, what I lost. When I see people driving to a destination, I know that I have none. No matter where I go, I do not really belong: I do not want to be there. I wander alone with a pinpoint focus on home, in a world that went on without me and forgot who I was. I must create what I need, from nothing. I am filled with panic, fear and hopelessness, choking down silent screams: alone in a world of strangers and things.

I drive east on Sunrise Highway and turn north on Route 110, noticing that all the traffic lights are off. I wonder if there is no electric in all of these houses and businesses. How vulnerable we can all become in a moment. I wonder why the electric is off. I maneuver around police cars with flashing lights, snarled traffic, and irate drivers. I am not impacted by them: life crises seem so trivial now.

As I pull up to the NYRecreate Office building, I notice the windows look dim. I surmise their electric is off also, and hope the combination lock is working. I am wondering why my new caseworker did not answer my calls this morning telling her I was coming. I am thinking about the fact that the NYRecreate’s Offices are not accessible to anyone in a wheelchair. The main entrance of the building is open to all. But people using wheelchairs must request, if they can get through to anyone, to go through a heavy metal door on the side of the building that has a keypad combination lock: so illegal. They don’t get it!

I called my new caseworker for a third time, and listened to a message that said she would get right back to me. I had no general number for the NYRecreate Office. They always said call the 1-800 number. I parked in the illegal handicapped parking, with its three-foot access aisles, because I did not want to sit out in the sun in my wheelchair waiting until someone might come along and might let me into the building. I figured I would watch from the car to see if someone came back from lunch. I always park on the other side of the complex in the van spaces by the child care, far away from here, just so I can get out of my car with the electric wheelchair. Last year, I came to deliver papers. I had never been given a phone number. I sat in my wheelchair for one hour in the freezing rain outside the combination door, knocking on the windows of the conference rooms, trying to get someone to notice and open the door. After an hour, shivering, I was finally let in by someone returning from lunch.

So here I am today sitting outside NYRecreate Office in the heat, feeling like the second-class citizen that I have become operating within Disaster Recovery, for an hour, wondering how I am going to deliver this paper that I am required to file. I see in the distance a man gardening. I begin watching him, trying to drag him down to this end of the complex with the power of my. mind. After about a half hour, he starts walking across the grass toward me. I begin strategizing. Closer, I shout as politely as one can shout, “Excuse me sir, can you please help me.” Oddly enough, he is a kind man, and he comes over to the car and says, “What do you need.”

I asked if he could get me through that door, because I had to deliver this paper. He said he surely would do that. I began the process of getting the wheelchair out of the car. I first had to park sideways in three parking spaces so I could get back into my car. He was very patient and friendly, and there was absolutely no one within eye-shot: but I was oddly not afraid, because I was focused on getting into that building. He punched the keypad: so easy when you know the numbers. He struggled to hold the heavy metal door open as it tried to swallow me. The small vestibule was crowded with boxes and the hall inside was strewn on all sides with empty boxes. I thought it was a mess. There were several men in suits standing and they asked the handyman what I was doing here. He explained that I wanted to deliver a paper to NYRecreate. They told him to take me to the front desk. I wondered why.

The front desk turned out to be at the other end of the complex and I found myself grateful that I did not bring my broken electric wheelchair that only runs for 20 minutes. As we turned the corner, there were suddenly three people staring at me from behind a desk, like I had spaghetti on my head. I guess they were wondering how I got in. The kind handyman told them I came to give some papers to NYRecreate. He told me when I was ready to leave, to call him, and left me there by a stairs I could not descend, on the inside of a locked combination door. Barbed wire!

The receptionist quickly offered, “NYRising moved.”
I wondered why I had to come all the way back here to be told.
Her words smashed against my weary head. I was confused, frustrated, angry.

“NYRISING MOVED?” I exclaimed, “You have GOT to be kidding me!”

She said she was not kidding, and pointed to a sign on the wall.
I exclaimed, “”They move, and they don’t even tell us? What is that? They don’t bother to tell people.”
Everybody just stood there like I was the unreasonable one. But I wasn’t ready to accept that they were gone yet. They should be where they are supposed to be.

“Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to get here?” I protested.
They stared at me blankly.
I rambled on about how my new caseworker did not answer my calls or emails, about how my former caseworker was so competent, and how NYRising was implemented before it was designed. I saw my words amble out the front door and down the stairs. I was standing there pointless.

I asked the receptionist to write down the new location of NYRecreate. She copied the name address and phone number off the wall. She said they moved 4 miles north on 110. She said she wanted to call the new NYRecreate office to tell them I was coming to deliver the paper. But, she asked them if she could deliver the paper instead, on her lunch hour. I was shocked. I wanted to make sure it got there myself. It was important. But, I knew that when I got to the new building, I might not be able to get into it, given NYRisings’s lack of disabled access in the two offices I have used. And, I was wearing down from the pain. So, I accepted the receptionists unexpected offer, with gratitude and puzzlement. Why is there such rampant cruelty in the world, and random acts of unexpected kindness?

Letter to FEMA on Denial of Reasonable Accommodation. 12-27-13

Federal Emergency Management Agency
Joint Field Office / Hurricane Sandy
Federal Coordinating Officer / Disaster Recovery Manager

RE: Reasonable Accommodation in Temporary Housing

December 27, 2013

Dear Federal Coordinating Officer:

As you are aware, FEMA stopped paying for my temporary housing, despite Stafford Act Protections for disabled individuals, on September 15, 2013, when they removed all able-bodied individuals from Hotels, ending the Temporary Housing Assistance Program.

As you know, xxxxxxx xxxxx, your predecessor, repeatedly committed to keeping me at this hotel, renting this room under a Direct Lease Program, if the TSA Program ended, until I could return home. I had personal conversations with Xxxxxxx and Xxxxx xxxxxx on this: he designated a “team” specifically to work on my case. They were the only FEMA allowed to speak with me: he removed all my personal information from the system. I was not contacted again until xxxxxxx xxxxx was leaving FEMA in June 2013 for a job with a different agency.

I am still in a hotel solely and exclusively because FEMA missed Substantial Damage in their Inspection of my house and gave me an unreasonable repair grant of $5,035 for my substantially damaged, and now toxic, house.

You have read my medical files, documenting medical limitations and hazards: why I require special options and consideration in housing. Let us be clear, my home accommodated all my needs: my home is not available to me now! I am adjudicated permanently totally disabled for 36 years and the grave implications of my unusual condition are voluminously documented. Despite this information, FEMA removed me from Temporary Housing Assistance at the Best Western Hotel: and, against my will, forced me to the DHAP/HUD Program. DHAP/HUD claims I am not their responsibility: I am FEMA’s responsibility, repeatedly refusing to help me in any way whatsoever. DHAP/HUD, like FEMA, is completely unprepared, unwilling and it would seem unable to deal with special needs, special circumstances, or disabled individuals: dismissing, denying, placing a whole class of people in terrifying jeopardy.

I filed two housing Appeals: to FEMA. The first was filed exactly as FEMA Agents told me to do, on 12-29-12. It has been posted on the internet since 2012 and repeatedly discussed with FEMA. An Appeal was filed by my attorney on August 22, 2013: a 504 Request for Reasonable Accommodation. Neither Appeal was answered. After assuring me the proper people were working on it for months, FEMA finally told me of the first appeal, “We do not answer Appeals. A non-answer was received on the 504 Appeal, saying if I attended DHAP Orientation FEMA “might” consider it. I did so. There has been no response from FEMA. However, I was told that FEMA flipped the 504 responsibility over to HUD. HUD is ignoring me.

BE Advised:

-FEMA has extensive medical documentation that it is hazardous to my health to relocate me to an apartment.
-I paid the hotel bill for the past seven weeks. I am out of money.
-The Rental Assistance/Transient Accommodations grant issued on 11-30-12, in the amount of $4,695.34 (which I tried to return to FEMA Agents at Cedar Creek Park 4 times and was rejected with. “We know you have related expenses. That is your money.”) Was exhausted on Temporary Housing. You have that documentation in your hands.
-I am participating in the BuyOut/Acquisition Program of NY Recreate. I was told several months ago that Resolution would take 2 to 6 months. I have no control of their timeline. The alternative to a BuyOut of my Substantially Damaged, Toxic house would be NY Rising Rebuild Program, which would be a hardship for me to begin after 14 months of futile repair attempts on a home that floated off its foundation and must now be bulldozed and elevated 12 feet.
-I was told by your legal department through Mr. Xxxxxxxx, by Xxxxx Xxxxx and Xxxxx Xxxxxxxxxxx, that there is $8,600 in my FEMA file (because you miscalculated repairs on my totaled house), available to me, that can be used for housing and has been provided to others for this purpose. I request this money to pay my Hotel bill now, committed to and implemented by Xxxxxxx Xxxxx and his Disability Team as Reasonable Accommodation from January until June of 2013, when he left FEMA for employment at a different Agency.
-I have sent Hotel receipts. I expect those bills (in excess of the initial $4,695.34 grant I exhausted at FEMA’s direction) to be reimbursed in a timely manner and my housing at the hotel to be paid from the $8600 withheld by FEMA on my totaled house, pending NY Recreate Buy Out.
-Note: Under the Stafford Act you are not supposed to charge the disabled person for temporary housing.

Please do not compound this horrific sequelae by again putting the blame on me, for still being in a hotel. I am here solely because FEMA failed to identify substantial damage, validate and deal with disability compliance, follow protocol, answer voluminous, properly directed complaints, or to act in a timely manner. I have been injured and scarred by FEMA’s lack of response. I am asking you now to demonstrate good faith: to cease and desist distributing outlandish letters with a litany of falsehoods to officials, falsehoods that can be expeditiously disproven. You have wasted so many people’s valuable time and effort with this frivolous, cavalier tactic. I am reluctant to believe that FEMA is that incompetent.

When we make grave mistakes, it is most facilitative to admit them and try to mitigate the consequences in an equitable solution. Without a doubt, FEMA, DHAP//HUD are making a mockery of disability and literally killing disabled people, because they don’t know what to do with us. I have seen too many of my disabled friends die because of the way they were treated in this disaster system. Don’t make my beneficiaries litigate this case!! Be assured that I have tried, and will continue to attempt, to settle this matter amicably.

Let us work together to rectify the devastating consequences that the Disaster systems have visited upon myself and the disabled community. Disabled people should have been the first population sent back home, not the last.

Sincerely,
Wendy Wagner

cc:
Senator Charles E. Schumer
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator Charles J. Fuschillo
Congressman Peter King
Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy
Assemblyman Brian Curran
Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg
Legislator David Denenberg

My Toxic House – Substantially Damaged. 11-29-13

My Toxic House: Substantially Damaged. 11-29-13

It is a location, a place where you belong. Where nobody can take your pictures off the wall. And when it is suddenly torn away by a vile and violent cyclone, and systems and people hammer at you that you do not belong, pull the blankets from under you as you sleep, you hold tight to the polluted soil of your own sweet land.

I sit on my land every day, by my home of 48 years where I raised my sons, now a gutted, toxic death-trap. I sit in my accessible van that no longer functions as it should, because it is packed tight with suitcases, winter blankets, food and living necessities. I cannot use the mechanisms of the access seat. It is blocked and impotent by the trauma of my life.

The land grows dark. I sit still in my van with my service dog Pollyanna in my arms, staring at a fading rock garden that I carried stone by stone from forests, beaches and mountain streams: now raped by looters stripping what is left of me. My face and blouse are soaked with tears flowing from eyes never dry these days. Pollyanna licks the salt away. Eventually, she tires, rests her silky head upon my sobbing breast, then slides onto her fleecy coverlet, exhausted from comforting the inconsolable.

It is so hard, impossible, to function: and it is impossible for able-bodied people to understand problems they have never experienced. But for me, it is my new, horrific, terrifying reality. It is beyond my comprehension that a life that was so manageable, is now so hideously out of control. I am thrust into a world where I am an alien, a freak: a world of systems and people that have no tolerance for difference, for pain, or those who use equipment. I am so lost: isolated. I walk through a dark, bleak, compassionless wasteland that is life post-Sandy, alone. I am alone!

My neighbors approach me, as I weep in my van, with, “Bulldoze the house and leave. You are bringing down our property values, because your house is still obviously storm-damaged. We want people to forget this neighborhood was flooded, so we can sell.”

It hurts to be dismissed.. But, I understand property values, and wanting to forget, to go on. Beyond that, I understand that I am a metaphor: a visible reminder that it can all be gone in a moment: your home, your health, your life. I hate that people now see me for my inadequacies. I was such a productive, appreciated person before Sandy: making unprecedented differences for disabled individuals. How fragile are our roles in life. How fickle is the cruel fist of fate.that turned a massive cyclone to my yard.

With my house, it did not happen all at once. It has been a slow process of loss, upon loss, culminating in my house sucking the breath from me and leaving me unconscious on the floor.

In the beginning, all the insurance adjusters who inspected my house said it was “totaled” by Hurricane Sandy. They were empathetic to the $50,000 loss of my accessible equipment and environment, but powerless. I had $300,000 in homeowners insurance: $100.000 contents. I only had $14,600 in flood insurance, because I did not live near the water and that was the policy my agent gave me. I received the flood insurance and $275 from the Homeowners Policy, for food spoilage and a front door bashed in by the wind. It was leveling.

In the disaster equation, if you had any flood insurance, it hurt you with FEMA. Survivors say that rather than being rewarded for doing the right thing, paying premiums: those of us who did, were “punished” and those who did not were reimbursed many times more, for the same loss. This was just the first of a litany of puzzling realities and inequities in the disaster repair/restoration marathon.

Initially, all estimates said it would cost over $100,000 to restore my house, before discovery of the foundation damage. FEMA never validated Substantial Damage to my house. FEMA inspected my house and gave me $5,000 for repairs. What could they be thinking!!

My house was now gutted, but there were still gross brown stains where feces spilled out of the toilet bowl, slithering through bedrooms and living room, and sewage bashed in the metal front door, splattering its imprint into my cement front porch. Mold crept deep into the walls, floors and floated visible in the acrid air. My house was initially sprayed for sewage and mold. It was declared safe. Six weeks later, a Mold Expert consulted, reported the house must be “Shocked,” then scrubbed down. Eight men cost me $4,000. He said it was the only way we could be sure the mold would not return. Afterwards, the house looked spotless.

In June I got the first indication that there was structural damage to my house. FEMA requested an inspection of my house by the Town: an inspection denied in November because Town inspectors said the house was “contaminated” and they could get “Hepatitis”. But in June, FEMA Program Directors claimed if the inspection revealed substantial damage, they could award me total: $31,900. Then, I would be allowed to apply for the Empire State $10,000 Grant. They assured me, “We accept a Building Department report over our own.” However, when it validated structural damage, foundation damage, FEMA declared, “You are not getting one penny more!”

White cottony puff-balls floated through my gutted house and clung to the walls. It was sprayed again for mold. In August, after further demolition of the walls and removal of objects and insulation from the attic suggested further contamination, the house was “Shocked” one last time and scrubbed, to death.

On September 20, 2013, I entered my gutted house, dreaming of holidays at home and pretty colors. How could I know a malevolent force had taken up residence in my personal space, and made my home a deathtrap. Insidiously, it overcame me, the polluted air. As I became increasingly dizzy, I did not notice my eyes swelling, my throat closing, until severe stomach pain doubled me over. Nausea and headache overwhelmed me. I could not breathe. My head, my face: the pain. I could not get a breath. Darkness slashed me to the ground as I passed out smothering in sweet yesterdays, gone bad.

For days I could not move my head, from excruciating pain in my face. I developed respiratory infection and rashes. Pollyanna woke up the next morning throwing up bile. She gasped and struggled for air all night. I sat outside my hotel room giving her oxygen and holding onto her life all that long dark night: I would not let her go. My doctor said, never go into that house again. It was terminal.

NY Rising, Governor Cuomo’s loan-to-grant Program touting restoration help for Sandy Survivors, sent me a letter offering a $145,000 Loan-to-Grant to “Elevate and Restore or Bulldoze and Rebuild” my house. I inquired, and like other homeowners, I was told it was not enough: it would cost at least $200,000. It is about $100,000 just to elevate the house. Also, the Program requires that the homeowner own and also live in the house for 3 years after receiving the loan, for it to become a grant. Many homeowners want to rebuild to recover equity in the house, and sell. The goal of this Program is to repopulate the land and revive devastated neighborhoods.

Now, I was being told that I had to elevate my house, repair it, and live in it for five years in order to forgive the debt, and that a ramp to that elevation would go around the whole house. Floodplain codes and costs for piecing my tattered house back together were making returning home increasingly impossible, for the lady in the wheelchair.

I told everyone I wanted a meeting with the Governor. There was a New York State BuyOut Program for totaled houses. But they were presently only considering clusters of houses and houses on the shore. Mine was neither. But, I felt my house qualified, except for the cluster and shore rules. And, I had observed that some Programs were being modified as time passed and justification became clearer. Then, after I passed out in my house, amazingly, I heard that they might be considering individual homes for BuyOut.

Be careful what you wish for! Considering a BuyOut is bittersweet, at best. In addition to the loss and trauma of the decision, the NY Rising Program airs commercials stating, “We are New Yorkers. We are stronger than the storm. Our communities are rising, better than before.” They make you feel like a loser because you are never going home: like you are giving up. In reality, there are few choices in this disaster equation: only best worst options.

NY Rising is a vendor-based Rebuild/Rehabilitate Program. That means, the State designates a fixed ceiling of money to be paid to contractors not homeowners, to restore your home to the same footprint, at basic quality, using new building and flood codes. The Program is faulted and disorganized: it is being designed in progress; rebuild allowances are unrealistically low; contractors are being paid in unfair increments, so many will not participate; and payment is extremely slow (Only 4 of 4,000 applicants have to date received any payment on their house.). It is a loan to grant program: the homeowner must own and live in the house for 3 (originally 5) years before it becomes a grant.

The BuyOut Program is called NY Recreate. NY State will purchase shoreline and high-risk houses at assessed value before the storm. This land is no longer habitable and may be used for parks. It was originally offered only to clusters of homes. Presently Buy Outs are only offered in Suffolk County. Recently certain individual “substantially damaged” homes are being considered for “Acquisition.”. The cash amount to a homeowner is low, but better than the un-repaired market value post-Sandy. The problem with this Program is that the “sale” price is not enough to replace the house with a similar house, in the same geographic area. Homeowners are devastated by the loss of place, often Long Island.

After 13 months of very intensive work, of being denied, and passed over by every program and charity, and putting $23,000 in repairs into my house, my house was overcome by chemicals and died a horrible death, leaving me stranded in the cold, cruel season of Good Will to All men: sitting on a building lot demolished by ax-slinging maniacs by mistake. When well-meaning people wish me a “Happy Holiday,” I wonder why they cannot see me bleeding.

NY Rising and NY Recreate require a Letter of Substantial Damage to proceed. This became my first clear definition of what was wrong with my house. Surely if I had this information when FEMA inspected my house, when they insisted that I put the heating system and electric in, I would have made different decisions.

“It was determined by inspection by the area building inspector that the floodwaters reached an average of five to six feet around and in the home. The water inundated the sub grade crawl space resulting in the entire building being shifted off the foundation and in some areas actually washing away the existing masonry blocks. The damage to the foundation and floor joists of the home has resulted in deflections many structural framing elements. The entire dwelling has shifted off the foundation. The Department of Building has therefore determined that the dwelling has been substantially damaged….”

I do not live on the water, or close to the water. But my house is slightly south of Merrick Road, on land that was once marshland. We never even got water in the street, unless leaves block the storm sewer: you rake them away, the water is gone. I would have been in my house, in my hospital bed that went on fire, with my service dog, if my sons had not nagged me out of the house. How vulnerable our decisions make us.

So there it is in black and white, on the day of SuperStorm Sandy, October 29, 2012, my house was fatally injured by a post-hurricane cyclone. I tried to breathe life back into her, but the diagnosis was wrong and she was too weak to survive the timeline of broken systems. On that day, my life was changed by the fickle fist of fate, forever!

Life post-Hurricane Sandy is a nightmare: of failed systems, apathy, toxic houses and substantially damaged people. No one cares about the agony of broken homeowners trying to stand brick on top of brick, in gunk. Everyone is broken in some way, limping through moldy cobwebs, gagging on sour milk. Priorities of programs and systems are gutted structures and paperwork, not people. Every day I wake to the stench of my life now, the reality that today will be worse than yesterday: as my body falls into irreversible loss, medical disaster, invisible to others. The reality of escalating loss is grounding, liberating, empowering.

People strive to regain some semblance of normalcy and financial stability in the horrific scenario called recovery – non-help, inequity. Process, procedure and outcomes shout down humanity. The weak are trampled. As we grow stronger, as the shock of Sandy trauma becomes our new reality, we understand we are our own best help. We are stronger than systems and cruel fate. Men climb up on the rubble of their land, are energized by their own autonomy, and wade through the sewage to the other side, conquerer: stronger, wiser, sadder than before.

Bulldoze the House! 9-28-13

Bulldoze the House! 9-28-13

It is eleven months tomorrow, since my house went down in SuperStorm Sandy, since everything that was my life ended, and life became one dark hotel room that most days I cannot leave because I have become too sick without my medical equipment. Today, I am awaiting answers for new-found, soon to be broken, promises. Brand new requirements and emerging rules are being shoved down our throats, as helpers back off once more, intimidated by bureaucratic intervention aimed at rectifying the initial disaster management mistakes: all this at the expense of the last homeowners still standing un-renovated.

Municipalities and building departments that closed their eyes immediately after the SuperStorm, and let homeowners patch together houses with substantial damage, and inhabit them, are now redefining the rules, erecting insurmountable barriers, and preventing unfinished homeowners from restoring their homes as others were originally allowed, preventing return to home. Agencies are now demanding outrageous expense of homeowners and unprecedented structural modifications: proposing turning our scenic coastline into a grotesque collage of towering cement and staircases. We are told that officials want every house on the south shore of Long Island elevated.

Governmental agencies and hastily-formed committees plan permanent modifications to our land and communities, overreacting, instead of analyzing, evaluating, misunderstanding our environment and Long Islander’s relationship with the land, and the sea. Federal, state, local agencies and charities are conducting chat meetings to discuss the failures of the disaster/restoration process and results, untrained in the task at hand, receiving huge salaries, coffering millions in allocated and donated funds.

The Concert money, donated by well-meaning ordinary people to help their neighbors, is withheld from the neediest, by charities facilitating slow-moving non-programs helping a paltry handful of people. Federal, state and donated monies are eaten by administrative costs/salaries, not filtered to the people, failing recovery.

Gloom moves over the restoration process, as prejudicial treatment of homeowners located on newly drawn flood plains, spreads panic, and threatens destitution, bankruptcy and permanent homelessness. Families inhabiting the wetlands for generations are forced from land their great great grandparents were born on, not by fear or inability to cope, but by new prohibitive government financial barriers, rules and regulations proposed to prevent this from happening next time. Can one really predict how high the tides of the next freak event will rise?.

New York State set up the NY Rising “Grant” Program, that is bankrupting, the neediest. Applying to that Program has become the criteria “charities” are using to give people assistance. The “charities” are demanding to be paid by NY Rising for providing “free help.” People who do not apply to NYRising are summarily refused “free help” and/or materials by charities. NY Rising funds, are charged to the homeowner for five years, before they become a grant. Also, the five-year clause requires that the homeowner not only own the house, but also live in it, for five years after receipt of funds. This way, the State proposes to repopulate neighborhoods and ensure that communities continue to exist. However, the Program is hurting homeowners: because it takes choice away from the homeowner, who cannot freely choose to stay in his home or leave, it allows for no special circumstances, and because no charity will help him if he does not pay them with NY Rising Funds: it excludes him from help from almost every other program. Also, NY Rising is “recommending every home that applies elevate the house,” at a price tag of almost $100,000. Houses on flood plains and low elevation that do not follow the recommendation and elevate, face astronomical flood insurance rates next year.

Programs are staffed by hastily-trained people, operating with cell phones disconnected. Programs are failing the neediest. Charities are stockpiling money and supplies. Everyone gives a different answer: nobody knows nothing. The system is making it impossible for those left standing, withholding Certificates of Occupancy so that people cannot live in their homes or sell them, unless they elevate them. New rules and regulations penalize homeowners on flood plains, and those who have not yet restored their homes. Destitute homeowners are forced to take out outrageous loans to elevate homes they cannot even live in, or walk away from their homes penniless. The Federal government, off nation-building, ignores the financial burden to the Survivors of SuperStorm Sandy, providing little help filtering down to the people of America.

The media has hurt Sandy Survivors . They report that survivors are receiving lots of money from agencies, charities, donations. Most people have received a pathetic pittance: many nothing. The media spotlights a few individuals as enduring glaring hardship. The truth is, some people recovered quickly, because they used their bank accounts, erroneously believing they would be reimbursed. But most people are still living in substandard, hazardous conditions. Everyone is enduring glaring hardship. There is no help for Sandy Survivors!! Survivors need assistance, answers, results and resolution, now, when their children are breathing mold, sleeping in closets and eating ramen noodles off paper plates resting on cardboard boxes, standing up in back yards.

I remember the 1950’s, when there was a cycle of hurricanes in our area. At that time, we had a flood above the windows every two years. We were prepared. We understood our environment and weather patterns, and functioned within its perimeters. We helped each other. Neighborhoods came together.

During Sandy, no one warned communities in time. All the way up the coast, the media and officials told the public, the winds were only 75 mph. They didn’t warn of significant danger until the last few hours. We had so little time to prepare. The public was misled by officials. Officials and government were not prepared. Well into it, they could not even decide how to categorize this storm. The indecision and confusion of officials compromised the public’s ability to respond, react and protect themselves in the havoc.

Given the progressively emerging insurmountable barriers and negatives bombarding Sandy Survivors and persecuting the suffering middle-class homeless, I am second-guessing myself. A shrill voice inside of me scolds, “Who gave you the right to spend a year of your life like this? What were you thinking!”

My only defense is, I thought I could save my home. I thought it would be a month, maybe two. I believed hard work, government assistance, charity, support of community and country, were paths to success. After all, I lived through floods as a child. But that was a different time of community and official co-operative effort. I never imagined that when nature draws a line of demarcation, people do not cross it, and America only helps other countries in need, not her own people. We were all so naive.

When my house went down, my son said to me, “Bulldoze the house! Walk away! You cannot save it!”

I cried. I needed to fight for my home: otherwise, I would be a.victim, victim of a freak natural event. I did not know how to be a victim. I was a survivor of serious injury, cancer, and tragedy. Nothing could defeat me. My house was heavily insured. I paid off my house. I did not know how to be destitute. I did all the right things. I did not know how to surrender. I always won the battles.

Walking out of my stinking, gutted home recently, I said to my son, “You were right. I should have bulldozed the house.” When options deteriorate, choice narrows. Men lose hope: because hope is a bird whose wings fell off.

If I knew what I know now about the disaster recovery/restoration process, if asked to make a recommendation to another in this situation, without reservation, I would say, “Bulldoze the house. You have no idea how bad it can get, progressively, over time. Save yourself!!!”

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!