Friday, November 9, 2012

Thoughts on Helping With Storm Recovery


 After listening to the storm coverage,  I thought I would  share a personal experience .  My mom and brother lost their home in a flood in Nashville on May 1, 2010. At first there was an incredible outpouring of help- food, clothing, help getting medication , shelters to stay in. Banks gave grace periods, utilities didn't charge and there were people to help you sort  needs and apply for assistance. Flocks of volunteers came from all over the US.
Stores gave away appliances and furniture, a truck came to neighborhoods to wash clothing. Church groups came with wheelbarrows and emptied piles of ruined personal belongings. Friends and acquaintances washed and dried belongings to prevent later mold .Trash pickup for debris and ruined household items and appliances was almost immediate.

One by one, the shelters shut down, the churches stopped serving food and there was no source for the things that hadn't been needed immediately,  but were needed to go on with  lives in a new place. My family's
house was not salvageable, but ironically, because my mom had flood insurance, she wasn't able to get help either demolishing or selling the shell of a house. The kitchen of the house was  no longer attached
to the house, and there was other structural damage.When she went to check on the house one day, there was an order to demolish on her door- inquiries told us that the demolition  would cost up to $10,000,with no available assistance.  The money she gained from the insurance was not nearly enough to fix the house, and my brother , who has Autism, wouldn't have been able to handle the lack of predictability  involved in  construction or people working in his home anyway.  She spent a lot of her time in the first months trying to establish a routine for him.

And, irony again, people who hadn't purchased insurance were getting help from FEMA. People who had 4 ft of water in their house and lost only one floor of belongings . Absolutely they needed help, but the water went to the top of the attic in mom's house and we saved only 1 piece of furniture- a blanket chest that stands in the hall of her house now. Our family pictures and movies washed out of the attic. I
found and salvaged many of the old pictures , but we never found the movies. I found my parent's wedding picture about a mile upstream stuck in some bushes. It took her three days to ask me , whispering
, if we had found the quilt I made for her,with literally hundreds of hexagons sewn together,  when I was in college. The answer was no.


There are some issues we are still dealing with two years later.  All of my brother's records were lost , all of my mom's important papers, including the insurance policy and the title to the cars were sodden and stuck together or illegible.  Credit cards, voter ID and  my mom's passport were in the desk and filing cabinet that were flooded. We had no proof that my brother had autism, so had trouble reestablishing services once they moved to Virginia to be close to me.

Utilities and banks seemed to forget that they were supportive- Comcast charged my mom for months for service. She had no electricity, no tv, no computer and no house, but had to pay on a contract. No appeal
seemed to work, and the closed doors and threatening letters were hurtful.

I remember the discouragement I felt  when news went back from complete storm recovery coverage to sports news and national news with no mention of the people people who had lost their jobs or at least one paycheck because their place of employment was closed or destroyed or those still living in hotels,  a room in a friend's house,  trying to survive in ruined homes.

My point- In 3 months, and 6 months , and a year, there will be people in the same situation as my family. The trauma and feeling of loss don't go away. I spent about a week helping my mom get settled in a friend's house pending insurance settlement, and I still react to a heavy rain storm with anxiety.

 During the immediate storm recovery, several churches from my hometown collected needed items in big trucks , and took them to Nashville to distribute. They stayed for a few weeks to help dig out. But once she was here- 5 months later because the insurance payment finally came in so that she could buy a house, there were only closed doors. No help moving in, no help getting furniture and appliances that she was finally ready for, no one calling to see what she needed. Utilities charged deposits. She was starting completely over with no help other than from family.

At this point: I know we're all feeling a surge of sympathy and want to give , but what about bringing
 trailers full of furniture and appliances 3 months out? What about sending a variety of gift cards for hardware and lumber stores, appliances or letting people know that they will be available for 6 months to a year ?  My mom was given one voucher for replacing household objects later. It  made a huge difference to her,
because it was 5 months before she had a house she could put things in.

Personally- I just set a reminder on my phone for for mid December, February and May, and plan to check to see what needs storm victims have  then. I have been pleased to see that some advocacy organizations have gathered around to support families with members who have disabilities.

Some needs we had later : We had a terrible time getting duplicates of Joel's records until one persistent and caring worker at SSI took it on as a personal project, and called agency after agency in Nashville to find the information she needed to establish support for getting his medication after he moved to Virginia. The medication was $700 a month. He went without for about 3 weeks until my brother and I realized that the recurrence of some of his symptoms wasn't just because of the trauma of the storm.

 Set those reminders, let Siri remind you , or add  a storm check up to your calendars.  Let's remember the storm in 3 and 6 months- even 1 year out.   Let someone who might have contact with refugees who have moved away from their ravaged homes and come to your community know that you are there to help with whatever needs to be done whenever needed.  If you are a professional, do what Danielle did- take on the task of getting a person with a disability , or who is on Medicaid or SSI reestablished, set up with the right agencies. Walk with them through the maze of papers , and applications for replacement cards and evaluations. Call other professionals if you don't know what to do.

When the reminders go off, if you are a collector or have a hobby, see if there are people who lost their collections and might love to have help to rebuild their collection , fabric stashes or art supplies. There will be musicians without instruments, stands , tuners and music. Kids without beloved electronic games and devices. They won't be ready for those now, but replacing these things later will be incredibly expensive. (Although for me, replacing my fiddle would have been on the priority list right after replacing my pillow and toothbrush) I was just thinking about the little basket of jewelry and a little parian doll that I carry when I travel just for a touch of home- I'd love to find a storm refuge who would find a duplicate of mine comforting.

Can you restore pictures? Can you fix video tapes and slides? Do auto repair?  Restore furniture or collectibles? Let's figure out how we can help with the things that don't seem to be a priority at first, but which can actually make a huge difference in emotional recovery. There might be some individuals who would really benefit from one small object that is beautiful or a "Thinking of you" card even a year from now.

Things my brother wanted and needed to feel safe- sports books and videos, year books from high school, posters that were the same as those lost. My sister put out an appeal on Facebook and  found someone who donated a duplicate of his Blacksburg High School letter jacket, the one that he earned for being the team manager and wore proudly for years.

When I think about it ,  I haven't finished scanning and retouching the family pictures, and I'm pretty sure my brother would still like a card. Guess I'd better start close to home.

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