Months after Hurricane Sandy struck, families across the Northeast are still struggling to rebuild their lives. When news of the storm first broke, my mind was fixed on an immediate family member in Manhattan. I watched from the West Coast as images of destroyed homes flooded into the mainstream media. But another thought filled my mind as I heard story after story of families mourning the loss of their homes. What wasn’t I seeing? What happened to the people who had lost their home long before Sandy arrived?
“During situations like this in extreme weather, they can use extraordinary measures to remove people… from the streets, who may not recognize they’re in a life-threatening situation,” said Patrick Markee, senior policy analyst of NYC’s Coalition for the Homeless, to the Huffington Post. In NYC, the City designated an extra 76 shelters in Manhattan’s evacuation zone to help accommodate the area’s homeless with contingency plans in place in case some of those shelters shut down due to the storm. The Department of Homeless Services teamed up with NYPD to bring homeless individuals to those storm shelters. While these actions were not able to protect everyone, article after article that I read said these homeless outreach efforts were generally “lauded” by the public and relevant aid organizations alike.
But some posed the question: Why we haven’t responded to the millions of homeless people in our country like this before? Why did it take a hurricane to bring this level of relief effort to the homeless population? In the weeks following Sandy, as the amount of available aid dwindles, Eric Braunitzer wrote in the New Jersey Newsroom that he fears there will be “a return to business as usual,” which means a reigniting of competition for aid resources between property owners made homeless by Sandy and those who were homeless before her arrival.
It seems that some distinction has been made between those brought to homelessness by natural disasters and those brought to homelessness by “sudden unemployment, health problems, family breakdowns, or difficult transitions from foster care,” a list of what Michael Zakaras poignantly coins in his Forbes articles as “small, hyper-localized hurricanes.” None of us is a stranger to these micro-hurricanes or to the destructive impact they can have on our lives. But then why is it that should someone be hit by her own personal hurricane, leaving her homeless, she becomes something of a stranger? Stigmatized and forgotten, she suffers from a lack of adequate aid.
Just as Hurricane Sandy was beyond our control, so too are disasters that befall only one person. And that raises critical questions—about ourselves and our society. When a storm breaks, so invisible to most but so devastating to one, what kind of person do I want to be? When those storms have broken on millions of people in our country, what kind of nation do we want to be?
- Lauren Hoelle, Guest Writer