Progress is slow a year after super-storm hit
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
A year after superstorm Sandy left a trail of destruction in coastal areas of Brooklyn and other parts of the city, many victims are still struggling with housing and financial challenges, a new report reveals.
A survey of more than 100 non-profit human services organizations, conducted by the School of Public Affairs at Baruch College and the Human Services Council of New York (HSC), found that the storm’s victims are still faced with ongoing housing and financial challenges.
The survey’s report, “Far From Home: Nonprofit Assess Sandy Recovery and Disaster Preparedness,” seeks to provide insight into non-profit organizations involved in Sandy relief and recovery, the impact of the services they have provided, the extent of unmet community needs, the quality of relief coordination by city, state, and federal government and the strategies to accelerate recovery.
The survey’s findings and recommendations were discussed at an HSC forum “Sandy: One Year Later: Assessing Community Recovery and Anticipating Another Disaster” on Oct. 23.
The keynote speaker was Linda I. Gibbs, deputy mayor of Health and Human Services. The panel also included a wide range of senior-level nonprofit and government leaders such as Robert G. Ottenhoff, president and CEO of the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP), one of the forum sponsors.
“New York City is strong because of the people and the organizations that work together in our communities to make us strong,” Gibbs said. “Resilience at the community level requires leveraging this strength, and the work represented at this forum will ensure we do that effectively,” she said.
Among the key findings in the survey:
• More than half of the organizations said that housing issues have impeded their ability to provide other services.
• Fewer than 28% of the organizations feel that the needs of half the people in the communities they are serving have been met.
• A lack of consensus about which government agencies were in charge – FEMA (39.4%) vs. the NYC Mayor’s Office (30.8%) – indicated a lack of clarity regarding leadership roles.
• More than half of the nonprofits reported damage to their facilities or infrastructure, and 60% said they expect only partial or no reimbursement, severely impacting their ability to serve clients.
The recovery is far from over and is likely to continue for years to come, according to a majority of the survey respondents.
“Many people are still displaced, suffering and living in unsafe and unhealthy conditions as a consequence of the storm,” said Marla Simpson, executive director of Brooklyn Community Services.
“Human services organizations are continuing to fill the unmet needs of victims in hard-hit communities throughout New York and surrounding areas. It’s clear that, for some, there is still a very long road ahead, and we need to work on short- and long-term solutions that will help us speed up progress,” Simpson said.
Approximately 23,000 households have registered for Build it Back, the city’s recently established housing program designed to assist those whose homes were damaged by Sandy.
The challenges to recovery include lack of alternative housing, insufficient funds to rebuild and delays in financial reimbursements and insurance settlements—both for clients and the nonprofit human services agencies that serve them.
“One year after Sandy, people still have no place to live and are in desperate circumstances,” said Michael Stoller, executive director of HSC.
“Human services organizations whose resources were already stretched as a result of the fiscal crisis laid out funds and resources with no guarantee of reimbursement to provide assistance to the victims, including immigrants, children, seniors, the homebound and disabled and others who lost their homes and were plunged into financial hardship. We need a coordinated disaster plan, adequate funding and a better support system in place to ensure that we are ready for future disasters,” Stoller said.