Hurricane Sandy is an ongoing tragedy that for many people is only getting worse.
Residents, community organizations and city, state, and federal agencies must come together to address the IMMEDIATE crisis that is worsening as the weather gets colder.
A month after Hurricane Sandy, thousands remain without electricity, heat, water, healthy food, basic healthcare, adequate housing, or even temporary shelter.
Long before Sandy hit, New York City already ranked high for homelessness. Now, tens of thousands of New Yorkers have been displaced, while many more are living in unsafe, moldy houses. Many NYCHA residents have been forced to pay full rent while having no heat and, in some cases, no water or electricity for weeks.
There should be an immediate housing plan that addresses their needs; it would include: extending the NYCHA rent credit to cover November and December to account for lost wages and the storm’s true impact; providing sufficient federal disaster relief funding to NYCHA, and employing NYCHA residents for building repairs instead of outsourcing jobs.
A recent census found 2,489 vacancies in 20 City Council districts that could house 200,000 people. In Far Rockaway, there are 384 lots that could be used to set up housing for 31,696 people immediately, keeping families close to their community networks. The City of New York should seize this opportunity to set a global precedent that would address both the immediate crisis as well as create housing for the tens of thousands who were homeless before the storm.
The storm has compounded an already existing health crisis in NYC. Now, families are living in unsafe homes, there is not enough access to primary care physicians, mental health practitioners and health care facilities in affected communities, and it has become even more difficult for those in impacted areas to access healthy food.
FEMA and Red Cross should work with volunteer healthcare infrastructures to set up more clinics to dispense necessary prescriptions and trauma counseling, and should direct money toward supplying healthy food to those in need — instead of canned goods, military rations, and other food high in sodium.
3) SAFETY NET SERVICES
Workers are being or have been deducted pay from jobs they cannot physically get to, many are unaware of FEMA benefits and deadlines, and private insurers are denying many claims. The Red Cross should dedicate some of its Sandy recovery funds to public information campaigns that inform employers and employees of their rights and what services are available. FEMA should be out canvassing neighborhoods with interpreters in order to ensure that all individuals impacted by the storm know their rights. FEMA should also organize weekly or twice weekly mass mailings for a minimum of four weeks, distributing leaflets in multiple languages, notifying people of available assistance and pertinent deadlines.
Already many residents are being denied FEMA assistance because they have insurance while their insurance companies are denying claims. The Attorney General should immediately intervene on behalf of residents who are unable to make repairs and in danger of losing everything because of these discrepancies.
4) TRANSPARENCY AND COMMUNITY INCLUSION
The influx of relief money coming into the region provides an opportunity for healthy, environmentally sustainable rebuilding with the inclusion of communities and community-based organizations.
We call for a public task force to monitor the use of funds and create structures that encourage community participation to help sustainably rebuild NYC in a way that prepares for today’s environmental challenges.
From the start, Occupy Wall Street has always been a disaster recovery effort propelled by the power of the people to rebuild a better future. We, along with our many allies, have been dedicated to more than just addressing economic inequality. We believed, and continue to believe, that New York City can reverse its role as the capitol of economic inequality, homelessness and corporate control over our democracy, and become a model for addressing the needs of its residents while promoting their dignity and ability to help shape our future.
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, yet again we see both an opportunity and a threat. As Hurricane Katrina showed, moments of devastation and rebuilding can lead to the return of the status quo, or worse — gentrification, displacement and continued privatization of basic services and jobs.
We are dedicated to seeing that that does not happen here in New York City.
And we are dedicated to ensuring participation and transparency in this process.
We know another world is possible and we are committed to working with our neighbors to build it.