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New York Post

 

Tell Truth to Storm-Slammed 'Hoods

November 06, 2012

By Nicole Gelinas

With temperatures dropping, days getting shorter and another storm coming in, New York (and New Jersey) is facing a crisis of displaced people.

On Sunday, Mayor Bloomberg compared this "very serious and urgent challenge" to post-Katrina New Orleans, adding, "I don’t know that anybody has ever taken this number of people and found housing for them overnight."

Wrong. After Katrina, FEMA and other authorities secured emergency mass shelter for 273,000 people — and gave 67,000 displaced families year-long apartment vouchers.

But what worked for Katrina won’t work for Sandy. New York has to fight its own war.

The best the city likely can do now is take a real-time lesson from the MTA: Be honest with your timetables on critical issues like when power and sewer lines can return. Absolutely do not promise more than you can deliver in ravaged neighborhoods before that infrastructure is up and running.

The housing crisis is real. Perhaps 20,000 New Yorkers, many elderly or children, need a new place to stay, and fast. (New Jersey and Long Island have similar tens of thousands of temporary homeless.) The mayor just appointed a city and federal disaster vet, Brad Gair, to tackle the problem.

Housing projects and private buildings in the Rockaways have suffered damage to power equipment. Single-family homes near the coasts are destroyed.

What the city owes these people first is the truth — including the limits on what it can do.

Make it clear to residents of flood-ravaged neighborhoods that they’re welcome to stay at home, rather than head to a shelter — but that they stay largely at their own risk.

The city can provide food, water, blankets and medicine at central distribution stations, and volunteers can bring supplies around. But those who can’t or won’t rough it will have to leave, miserable as a shelter is.

Until power and other infrastructure is restored, government help has to be at central locations, not given street to street or house to house. The government’s job is to get that infrastructure running and clear debris, so people can repair their property safely.

To that end, elected officials should give out a clear timetable for power, water and heat restoration — even if that timetable is "long."

If residents know it will "only" be another week, maybe they’ll opt to sit it out. But if it’s going to be longer, they need to know — no matter what the blowback to the pols.

To discourage people from staying in heavily damaged areas, Bloomberg should embrace the National Guard. The Guard can patrol empty neighborhoods, as it did in New Orleans after Katrina, leaving the police to do their normal jobs.

In any neighborhood that lacks basic services, the more who vacate, the better. People camping indoors inevitably risk tragedy: Candles cause fires.

But just as the feds figured out after Katrina, the city is learning that people can’t stay in a mass shelter for long. Toilets fail; nerves fray.

After Katrina, bus convoys brought thousands from the Superdome and highway overpasses to Houston’s Astrodome, a five-hour car trip. From there, FEMA paid for hotel rooms, as it will do for some Sandy victims.

Yet FEMA soon realized that sheltering families in hotels, many without cooking facilities or transportation to anywhere, wasn’t much better than keeping them in shelters. So it gave out the apartment vouchers — 46,000 in Houston alone.

Others stayed with family or friends, or depended on their own resources to rent a temporary apartment far from home.

But that model won’t work here. New Orleans pretty much shut down for months, so evacuees had no jobs to go to. They didn’t have much to lose by staying hundreds of miles away.

New York is open for business. Encouraging mass relocation equals encouraging unnecessary unemployment.

But the city doesn’t have extra housing lying around for tens of thousands. Temporary trailer housing, also used after Katrina, isn’t much use now. People can’t stay in trailers on their front lawns unless they have power. Nor can they keep a trailer on their lawn if they don’t have a lawn.

The city, state and feds may have to get very creative — including using borrowed cruise ships, as the feds did after Katrina.

Yet the government can’t turn the clock back two weeks. Bloomberg, Gov. Cuomo, and President Obama can only ameliorate suffering.

Until hard-hit neighborhoods are fit for habitation, city, state and federal efforts can keep people alive and fed — but no one’s going to be comfortable. Lots of folks will be somewhere they don’t like — or crowded in with family or friends for a while.

The government can do a lot, but it will work best if people understand its limits.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/tell_truth_to_storm_slammed_hoods_1z3ZXcosa2i33b9iYPlqnK

 

 
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