Hurricane Sandy disrupted so many lives and displaced so many people in our autism, disability, and special ed communities. Many of those affected are still struggling to bring routine, safety, and necessities back into their lives — and not all who need assistance are getting the support they need.
Here are two personal accounts about what’s not working right now in Sandy’s aftermath, what needs to change, and — for those who want to help — how it’s so much more important to donate money than goods.
I am the autistic mother of an autistic 10-year-old. I want to share something that happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. My son, who has not had school or therapy for a week and is disconsolate over the disruption of his routine, finally had some therapy scheduled for this morning. Public transit is not yet well restored enough in Brooklyn for us to have used public transportation to get him to that therapy.
We have a car, but due to the citywide fuel shortage, we couldn’t find any open gas stations, so we were worried we wouldn’t have enough gasoline to bring our child home. I called Acess-a-ride, explained that because neither my son nor I have mobility issues, we have never registered for any kind of para transit. I got a polite but firm refusal from the MTA staff person with whom I spoke. I understand the necessity for registration policies and that qualification takes time. But the employee I spoke to did not even offer to ask a supervisor about our unusual circumstances to see if some emergency accommodations could be made.
Hurricane Sandy was no one’s fault, and overall I am very impressed by the federal, state, and local response. I also understand that though I can speak and my son cannot, our disabilities are not immediately obvious. But they are real and especially in an emergency like this, relevant. So with all respect that is very much due government workers during this crisis, I see a need for greater flexibility and creativity in serving autistics like us, a population so reliant on structure especially during an emergency.
A No to services for autistics in a disaster area, however politely phrased, is still a No. The only appropriate response to me, my son, and the many, many other people with disabilities in similar circumstances is “Yes, we will work with you until we find a solution.”
Some of you have asked me what you can do for Hurricane Sandy survivors. Many of you have been volunteering in the recovery effort. Many of us have wanted to give to efforts, but question the charities and administrative overhead of specific charities.
Tonight I spoke with my friend Hal, who is a special needs teacher at Martin de Porres HS in Rockaway (Although the school was initially started by Christian Brothers and
people working in New York City’s previous 600 Schools, it has no
religious bent). The school serves a population in which many families are below the poverty level. The school, which faces the Atlantic Ocean in Rockaway, has been heavily damaged by Hurricane Sandy. School has temporarily been relocated while it is being fixed, and classes have resumed in a temporary location.
Teachers are currently donating their own funds for blankets for children. The City says that heat and power may take anywhere from three to nine weeks for many of these kids’ homes. I asked Hal if I could encourage people to donate via check to the school. I would discourage any buying of specific goods. Already in Staten Island, there is an overabundance of clothing that people donated that is going nowhere, sitting at New Dorp High School. Today, there could be a pressing need for pillows for shelters; tomorrow, those items could be superfluous.
I decided to recommend this to my friends as a valuable $$ donation that people can send in the spirit of the Obama win, something that truly gets at saving our safety net, with no administrative overhead. Both the students and the school will need all sorts of items, but I think the best thing is for them to make the assessment. People have been extremely discouraged by the trouble with distribution.
If you’d like to see these kids and families get on their feet, consider donating via check to the school and they will try to match the $$ to the needs. The school itself will need computers and other items, which I know little about right now.
You can mention in the memo part of the check that it is for “Hurricane Sandy.”
Martin de Porres High School
Attn: JoAnne Brancato
621 Elmont Road
Please feel free to circulate this to other people who may be willing to make a contribution.
All kinds of other stuff is happening to meet needs out there. Other places that I think are useful for donating include City Harvest (food), the Mayor’s Fund, and eventually Emergency Response Relay, which was on the ground in Haiti. As many of you know, an Occupy Mrs. and Mrs. Sandy registry also exists.
Those who have gone to shelters because they lost everything they owned, need to be able to keep their dignity. They need to rebuild their lives by finding shelter. They need a couple of items of new clean clothing – not the bags of used clothing that has been being dropped off and mixed together. We have a bed bug epidemic going on … mixing used clothing together is not a good idea, especially in a shelter system.
You can donate a few used toys to the shelters where children are staying but not too many as there isn’t room to store.
Call the shelters and see what is needed first! They need medical attention to assist with the post traumatic stress and they need someone to help them organize. The shelter will provide the meals so people should coordinate ready made food donations with those shelters individually. We do not need tractor trailer loads of soup, pasta or canned goods.
These people need financial assistance to rebuild their lives while they await checks from insurance and FEMA. They may need help from professional contractors to bulldoze their homes and rebuild but that will be months down the line. They need realtors to come together to find them temporary housing and they need people who have empty apartments to accept short term leases.
Those who are living rough in their destroyed homes need social workers to help them with their post traumatic stress. Unfortunately they do not trust anyone to come in to their makeshift homes and they won’t leave. We have elderly living in cars and flooded basements with their lost pets. They will not leave. They need food, water and medical attention. They are barbequing in the street. They are fearful of looters and have set up their own system of protection and care for their neighbors. They will take blankets, water, food, and comfort if you go into the streets to give it but they will not leave.
Now that we know what is going on, you can understand that the abundance of donations are going to be hard to distribute. There are six tractor trailer loads of used clothing sitting at Howland Hook. There are more coming. What will be done with that? There are tractor trailer loads of food coming down to the island … how will it be distributed and to whom?
I think it is time for us to recognize that the best way to get people help is through gift card donations or monetary contributions to organizations we can trust. Let’s all use our heads and stop sending food, clothing and other items that can be purchased by the affected person in the quantities that they need at the time they need them.