Things I saw in Mastic Beach, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and the importance of Disaster Case Managers.
Rashad’s View: Mastic Beach 7 Months after Sandy
In this blog, I wanted to talk about a recent project I had been working on in Mastic Beach to reflect on the things I saw in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the importance of Disaster Case Managers.
In June, The United Way of Long Island partnered with the Long Island Progressive Coalition to introduce a program that offered relief to homeowners who were affected by Hurricane Sandy. The program offered energy saving improvements to the first 20 eligible homeowners in Mastic Beach, an area that did not receive nearly as much government aid as areas such as Long Beach or Lindenhurst, though Mastic Beach had incurred a large amount of damage. I wondered, however, how bad could Mastic Beach be 7 months after the storm hit?
The program was geared towards helping homeowners who were practically finished with their rebuild process. By offering energy efficiency measures, homeowners would be able to save money on their energy bills for years to come after having spent so much piecing their lives back together. Due to the amount of time that had passed, I believed the task would be easy in finding homeowners who were ready for the energy efficiency measures that included insulation and air-sealing.
Mastic’s Green Energy Initiative was introduced during a Town Hall meeting in the newly incorporated village of Mastic Beach. Seated next to a Disaster Case Manager (Groups dedicated to assisting disaster survivors with their recovery), we were able to obtain a substantial amount of leads and felt confident that we were going in the right direction. I believed the project would be over in about a week and I would return to my regular position as an organizer for PowerUp Communities, the LIPC’S energy efficiency program.
A week after the Town Hall meeting, I made my first visit to Mastic Beach to get a map of the area that was affected by the storm to obtain more leads. As a Nassau resident, the furthest I had ever ventured into Suffolk County was Huntington, which was practically on the border between the two counties. I was pleasantly surprised by the different atmosphere that Suffolk had to offer. Whereas Nassau County was more of a suburban area, Suffolk County offered a much more rural feel with its tall grass and expansive wildlife. For the first time, I witnessed wild deer grazing and interacting and found myself enthralled by the simple beauty that nature had to offer. Moments later, as I crossed into the flood zone, I was taken aback by the devastation that same beauty had caused.
Large dumpsters lined driveways as homeowners worked to gut their own houses. Tarps replaced what was once a sturdy roof. Trailers were now on properties because the home itself was uninhabitable. I saw plenty of red stickers in windows, indicating that these homes were no longer livable, if the homes were even left. Some homes were nothing more than beams and floorboards. I knew then that the task I had set out to complete would not be as easy as I had expected.
7 months after and the half of the community was still in shambles. Everyone needed assistance, often times more than what our program had to offer. The majority of homeowners needed to have their homes raised after the flood since the flood plane had changed. Problem was, that component of rebuilding would cost about $40,000, well above the means for most working class families in the area. A lot of homes would not qualify for our program, but these homeowners still needed assistance…How could I help?
Disaster case managers became the lifeline for homeowners in Mastic Beach. Unlike FEMA representatives, Disaster case managers are local entities/charities that help with disaster relief. Case managers are able to secure funds for issues that insurances wouldn’t cover and at times, are even able to secure FEMA funding from a case that may have initially been turned down. Anyone who was unable to go through the Green Initiatives program was referred to a Disaster Case manager, all of whom had a plethora of options when it came to solving homeowner issues.
I realized how truly naïve I had been by the beginning of August. I had found the 20 eligible homeowners for the Green Initiatives program, setting up almost 3 times as many homeowners with DCMS. I thought 7 months was more than enough time for people to get back on their feet, for the proper amount of aid to have been dispersed, and for some sort of normalcy to have returned. But 7 months could not repair a lifetime of memories and belongings, washed away one stormy night in October. Without DCMS and the United Way, many homeowners would still be unsure of how to move forward or how to apply for aid that they are qualified for. I am thankful that I was able to work with the United Way and the various Disaster Case Managers to help homeowners in Mastic Beach on their road to recovery since Hurricane Sandy.