Be Our Guest: When assisting agencies that helped after Hurricane Sandy, don’t forget the nonprofits

When Hurricane Sandy hit, community-based organizations and nonprofit human services agencies leapt to the front lines of the response and recovery. They rendered emergency services. They provided food, water, heat, shelter, health services and other basic necessities to the neighborhoods where aid was desperately needed. They helped victims access critical information and resources, while partnering effectively with local and state elected officials and government agencies like the New York City Office of Emergency Management, FEMA, and the city’s fire and police departments. They did all of this without knowing if they would be reimbursed, and without any concern for their bottom lines or their own safety. They did this all without even being asked. These agencies and organizations are among the best qualified to step up in times of crisis because they provide human services every day to the most vulnerable people in our city, including families, children, youth and seniors. They have a strong connection with the communities they serve, and understand their needs. In fact, it was clear that neighborhoods served by experienced, stable nonprofits recovered from the storm more quickly. But many nonprofits were themselves decimated by the storm and, like the communities they serve — in areas like the Rockaways, Red Hook and Coney Island — many are still struggling to recover while providing services to more people than ever. Some steps have been taken to assist these nonprofits and their clients. The Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City recently announced that in addition to a recovery loan program launched in November, nonprofit organizations serving New York City residents will now be eligible for recovery grants. And New York State is providing support for a comprehensive case management program for people affected by Sandy. But much more will need to be done. Experience with past disasters such as 9/11 demonstrated that Continue Reading

City makes progress after Hurricane Sandy, but many outer-borough residents were still waiting for power and trains

The trains were running and most lights glowing Saturday in lower Manhattan as displaced residents found their way back home nearly a week after their evacuation.   Only 11,000 Manhattan residents remained without power this weekend, and officials said 80% of normal subway service was restored citywide just five days after the hurricane havoc idled the nation’s largest mass transit system.   All trains should be operating within a few days, officials said.   “Come on out and use the system,” urged Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota during a Saturday news conference.   LIVE BLOG: FOLLOW THE LATEST DEVELOPMENTS IN THE AFTERMATH OF SANDY   PHOTOS: THE DAMAGE LEFT BEHIND BY HURRICANE   Trains started picking up passengers again Saturday morning along the lengths of the 4, 5, 6 and 7 lines, officials said. Full service was expected to return late Saturday to the D, F, J and M lines, officials said.   But many outer-borough residents were still griping about power and train service.   Nearly 80,000 people were without electricity in Queens and an additional 30,000 in Staten Island — two locations that bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy’s ferocious winds and storm surge on Monday. Good news for those customers could still be a week off, with Con Ed promising full restoration outside Manhattan by Nov. 11.   At a Saturday news conference, Mayor Bloomberg blasted LIPA, which provides power to the Rockaways, for not making the area hardest hit by the storm a priority. He urged the utility “to put more resources on the job,” noting temperatures are expected to be near freezing Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. “It could be up to two weeks, and that is certainly not acceptable as it’s going to get colder,” Bloomberg said.   Brooklyn riders on the A, C, and R trains were stuck taking shuttle buses to Manhattan for Continue Reading

Hurricane Sandy’s sad legacy in Far Rockaway: destruction remains and toxic mold is spreading

Christmas, the most joyous of times, is around the corner. But thousands of Far Rockaway residents will have little to celebrate. Seven weeks after Hurricane Sandy ravaged New York, 11,000 of them still lack heat, hot water, electricity and effective public assistance. Nothing has changed for Far Rockaway residents Jorge Gonzalo, 66, an Army veteran, and his mother, Pura Gonzalo, 89, one week after we first told their story: they are still enduring darkness, cold weather and official indifference. Their main concern is not that they have to light candles at night or turn on the stove to fight the cold, but that their basement has become infested with mold. “I am worried we are coughing,” Pura said. “Jorge tried to clean as much as he could with Clorox, but the mold is now all over the house. He is not in good health and I am afraid he will get worse.” And that is a real possibility for the Gonzalos and thousands of others whose homes are mold infested and who can neither afford to pay for its removal or get assistance from the city. In fact, mold has become one of the biggest health hazards after Sandy. Volunteers working with the Met Council, a social service agency, found that only one in five families is hiring professional mold cleaning services, not surprising given that mold remediation can cost several thousands of dollars. The rest are either painting over the mold or purchasing cheap and ineffective cleanup kits. Until local and federal relief agencies come up with a solution, people who, like the Gonzalos, can’t afford to have the mold removed are being left to live in toxic homes. Religious leaders and elected officials are calling on Mayor Bloomberg to add mold remediation to the city’s Rapid Repairs program, which was established to help residential property owners affected by Sandy make emergency repairs including restoration of heat, power and hot water. “Faith leaders are Continue Reading

Where hundreds of New York’s most vulnerable citizens spent the night during Hurricane Sandy

The school buses started pulling up 15th St. in Brooklyn at about 6:30 on Tuesday evening, and by 8 p.m. hundreds of New York’s most vulnerable citizens were settling in for the night. The basketball courts where I sometimes shoot hoops were covered with cots. The Park Slope Armory, a massive fortress that had been converted into a YMCA fitness center a few years ago, had been turned into a shelter for people with special medical needs. The patients, elderly and frail, came from nursing homes and medical facilities in Belle Harbor, the Rockaways and other parts of the city that had been hard hit by Hurricane Sandy. Almost all of them seemed to have physical disabilities. Many seemed to suffer from mental illness as well. Most seemed disoriented as they were taken off the buses into a swirl of diesel fumes and emergency lights, and then into the bright, sterile light of the Armory. Park Slope got through the storm OK. Broken tree branches crushed a few cars and the high winds ripped awnings off a few businesses on 7th Ave. But most of us in this part of the city didn’t even lose power. The bodega on the corner stayed open even during through the scariest moments. We felt like we had dodged a bullet, especially when we saw the devastation in Breezy Point and Lower Manhattan. So when Brad Lander, Park Slope’s city councilman, issued a call for volunteers to help out, I went to the Y to pitch in. Scores of my neighbors were already there by the time I arrived. Most of us volunteers didn’t have any special medical skills to offer. But we all had a desire to do something – anything – to help. So we ripped open boxes full of blue blankets with the City of New York insignia and handed them out to the patients. We helped men and women who need canes, walkers and wheel chairs to make it to the bathrooms. We ladled soup into bowls and delivered meals – chicken or meatloaf, take your pick – to hungry people who Continue Reading

Daily News takes you inside unfolding crisis as Hurricane Sandy batters New York

It was 8:37 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 29, and Cas Holloway’s BlackBerry started to ring. Already, a damaged crane 90 stories above W. 57th St. was threatening to topple. A building had partially collapsed in Chelsea. And now seawater was cascading into the city — swallowing up homes, then streets, then entire neighborhoods. On the other end of the line was Chuck Dowd, who runs the NYPD’s 911 system. Dowd told Holloway the system was being inundated with 10,000 calls every 30 minutes — 10 times the average — and most were for downed trees. Dowd was concerned people with life-threatening emergencies weren’t getting through quickly enough. “Okay. I’ll get on it,” Holloway said. Seconds after he hung up, Holloway’s phone rang again. It was Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano. Firefighters needed to rescue hundreds of people trapped by floodwaters in Staten Island and the Rockaways. Cars, many of them floating, were impeding their way. People needed to get off the road. “I’ll get on it,” Holloway said. He was about to hang up when, like a bad dream, a call-waiting beep rang in his ear. Con Edison CEO Kevin Burke was calling. “We just lost (power to) half of Manhattan,” Burke said. Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News First responders rescue John Lee, 90, in Breezy Point. * * *  Nearly a month later, the lives of thousands of New Yorkers remain upended. Yet, there is a sense that it could have been much worse. Through interviews with top city officials, the Daily News has pieced together the first behind-the-scenes look at New York City’s night of reckoning. The accounts from those who oversaw the storm response suggest the city withstood Sandy thanks to steely nerves, exhaustive preparation and the extraordinary skill and bravery of cops, firefighters and other first responders. The storm posed a series of unprecedented challenges. And Continue Reading

Fewer police brutality complaints against NYPD after Hurricane Sandy takes down hotline

A review of brutality complaints against the NYPD might suggest cops have been on their best behavior — with a 48% dip in reports of police abuse between November and January. But not so fast. The fact is Hurricane Sandy’s bad behavior took out the city’s complaint phone line, making it impossible to quantify cops’ good behavior. That “has had an effect on our complaint activity,” Commissioner Daniel Chu acknowledged during a Civilian Complaint Review Board meeting Wednesday. Verizon didn’t reactivate the 800 number until this week. According to the independent NYPD watchdog group’s own figures, the CCRB receives an average of 249 police abuse complaints by phone each month. But after Sandy, that number dropped to about 29 complaints a month. The skewed statistics showed a 3.5% drop in cop abuse complaints, from 5,969 in 2011 to 5,760 last year. Critics say the broken 800 number disenfranchised hundreds of people. “All of those incidents of potential police misconduct are just gone,” said Chris Dunn of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Complaints generated from trespassing stops in New York City Housing Authority complexes enrolled in the NYPD’s Clean Halls program also dropped, from 76 to 59, CCRB officials said. Yet roughly the same amount of complaints were substantiated. Critics questioned if the CCRB’s request to have cops patrolling NYCHA housing retrained was effective. Join the Conversation: Continue Reading

Widow mother of firemen outraged at politicians who voted ‘no’ to Hurricane Sandy relief bill: ‘Absolutely disgraceful’

A widowed mother of two hero firefighters killed on 9/11 says she has been left heartbroken again — this time by politicians balking at approving Hurricane Sandy funds to rebuild her flood-damaged home. Maureen Haskell, 68, of Seaford, L.I., was thrust into the spotlight Friday when Rep. Peter King (R.-L.I.) pleaded with fellow members of Congress to approve a funding package aimed at helping storm-ravaged victims like Haskell. “It’s absolutely disgraceful. It breaks my heart,” Haskell said of the 67 Republicans who voted no Friday on a $9.7 billion first-phase funding package for Sandy victims. FORMER NY SENATOR RIPS 67 GOP CONGRESSMEN WHO VOTED 'NO' ON SANDY RELIEF Debbie Egan-Chin/New York Daily News Seaford, NY home of Maureen Haskell, which was damaged by Hurricane Sandy owned by Maureen Haskell who said the house would be condemned. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) unexpectedly tabled the funding vote earlier last week due to a dispute with other House Republicans, angering local politicians, including King. “Everybody plays by the rules . . . except for tonight, when the rug is pulled out from under us,” King said on the House floor after Boehner tabled the vote on the funding package. The measure was eventually passed by the House Friday with a vote of 354-67. CHARITY GROUPS HELP REBUILD LONG ISLAND FAMILY'S SANDY-RAVAGED HOME Boehner has promised to put a larger $60.4 billion Sandy aid package up for a vote on Jan. 15. But the political hijinks has left storm victims like Haskell bitter and worried they might get left in a lurch by Washington. “There are people living in tents on Staten Island in 25-degree weather. This is not a third-world country,” Haskell told The News. PHOTOS: SUPERSTORM SANDY'S DESTRUCTION Compounding Haskell’s anger is the fact that she has paid years of premiums on her flood insurance and has yet to be given an answer about her claim. Continue Reading

Feds’ secretary to oversee response to Hurricane Sandy vows not to let New York down

It's not just business — it’s personal. The cabinet secretary chosen by President Obama to oversee the federal response to Hurricane Sandy was raised in New York — and vows he won’t let the city down. “I have deep roots in the region. This is home,” Shaun Donovan told the Daily News in his first extensive interview since being appointed as the recovery czar. Donovan — the secretary of housing and urban development — is charged with helping New York and New Jersey pry the billions they need from a gridlocked Congress and then helping them spend the money to rebuild tattered neighborhoods and to prevent such a catastrophe from happening again. Sonya N. Hebert/The White House Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan hugs Ethel Jones of the Booker T. Washington Housing Development Residents Association during a tour of storm damage at the complex in Jersey City, N.J., Nov. 16, 2012. He already is kicking around some creative new ideas. “While we’re rebuilding homes, are there smart things we can do to avoid these challenges the next time?” he asked. “Should we rebuild (ocean) boardwalks with different materials? Should every gas station have a generator? Sea walls will be discussed.” Donovan’s ties to the disaster are as strong as his links to New York. Nearly every milepost of his life has been touched by Sandy. Sonya N. Hebert/The White House Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan delivers remarks on Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts during a press conference at the FEMA Joint Field Office in Lincroft, N.J., Nov. 16, 2012. Born on the upper East Side and educated at the prestigious Dalton School, Donovan took the road test for his driver’s license on Long Beach, L.I., streets wiped out by the storm. He was married in a New Jersey town battered by Sandy and raised his two children in a Brooklyn home just blocks from Continue Reading

In spite of local opposition Pelham Bay apt. building will house 63 adults displaced by Hurricane Sandy

Irate Pelham Bay residents have no choice but to accept their new neighbors. Public concern in the neighborhood swelled after Services for the UnderServed began using the vacant Pelham Grand Apartments in late December as a temporary residence for 63 adults with mental illness who were forced from their Rockaway Beach home after Superstorm Sandy. A sometimes hostile crowd of more than 100 local residents packed Community Board 10’s meeting last week to confront Dr. Yves Ades, chief operating officer of SUS. "Our tenants are not murderers, they're not rapists, they're not predators. They are people who are simply looking to live with dignity in the community and direct their own lives," said Ades. "Every time we open a supportive care building we get a reaction like the one we have here, although this is a very different situation because we're going to be gone, we're going back to Beach 85th st.," Ades said in reference to the group's damaged facility. He promised that SUS would cooperate with the community during the six to nine months that the residents will be there. In the CB 10 meeting at the Villa Barone restaurant last Thursday, Egidio Sementilli, who lives a block away from the Grand, shouted, "Take your sixty-five homeless mental patients and go back to Far Rockaway," to applause from the crowd. Maria Nieves, who lives directly behind the building, said her main concern was safety. “I don't know who these people are, what their history is, it just makes me nervous," Nieves said. Ades promised to create a community advisory board that will meet with locals to keep them abreast of developments pertaining to the facility and host more building walk-throughs. A concern that many residents shared was how quickly SUS was able to move in, and without any neighborhood approval. "This is a building that sat empty for the last five years and many residents feared it would be turned into a homeless shelter," Ken Continue Reading

Mayor Bloomberg focuses on Hurricane Sandy and gun control before singing his swan song

When the news broke of the shooting rampage at a Connecticut grade school, Mayor Bloomberg’s top criminal justice adviser grabbed his iPhone. Twenty-six people were dead, most of them children. And the adviser, John Feinblatt, who was at the White House that day, knew he needed to email the mayor with every detail. For years, Bloomberg had been a lonely voice seeking tough new restrictions on firearms. But within two days of the Newtown shooting, Bloomberg was on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” demanding that President Obama put gun control at the top of his agenda. “I think he felt that . . . if he had been bold, it was time to be bolder,” Feinblatt said. “It was clear to him . . . that this was a time to lead the entire nation.” As he stood in Times Square on Monday night, Bloomberg did not just ring in 2013. He also raised the curtain on his 12th and final year as mayor, officially becoming a lame duck. Most elected officials heading for the exit spend their final months battling to stay relevant. Bloomberg begins his last year with a new agenda, a new sense of purpose and new chances to burnish his legacy. First there is the Newtown shooting, which has given the mayor a national platform to take on the powerful gun lobby. And there is Hurricane Sandy, which has put two big items on his “To Do” list: rebuilding the city and preparing it for future superstorms. “There’s sort of this confluence of federal issues we’ve been involved in: There’s the Sandy aid, there’s Newtown, the shooting and the issue of gun violence,” said Howard Wolfson, deputy mayor for government affairs and communications. Bloomberg’s war against assault weapons and illegal gun purchases began years ago but crystallized during his second term. In April 2006, he invited a dozen or so mayors to Gracie Mansion, seeking to form a gun control coalition. “I Continue Reading