Hurricane Sandy: Update
Photo of Manhattan's West Street flooding after Hurricane Sandy (stock)
Like many of our neighbors in the New York City region, we felt the impact of Hurricane Sandy when it hit on October 29. The storm created power outages, cut off telephone and Internet services, caused major flooding that cut off access to a few of our locations, and also forced us into emergency preparations in order to keep our 24-hour services going.
Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. Though the monetary impact of the storm is estimated in the billions, there are other effects of the storm that can’t be as easily seen or measured. For victims of crime and abuse, the storm had a unique and devastating impact.
Compounding Crisis with Crisis
Domestic violence survivors who’d been in dangerous situations in the days leading up to and after the storm found that with massive disruptions to the city’s communications, criminal justice, and transportations systems, they also faced immediate threats. Survivors couldn’t access help from the police, the courts, or the city’s emergency shelter system. Domestic violence survivors living in public housing buildings who’d been scheduled to transfer to safer locations found their transfers delayed because of power outages, flooding, and communications disruptions – and also found themselves dealing with escalating violence since they were cut off from resources for help.
Our Chief Program Officer, Liz Roberts, spoke on behalf of Safe Horizon in a BuzzFeed article on how agencies serving domestic violence victims dealt with families impacted by yet more crisis created because of the hurricane. You can read the article here.
Helping a Client Navigate a Course through Crisis
After a 3-hour bus ride to get to Safe Horizon, C. told her therapist: “I’m double-homeless now because the homeless shelter I was living in was evacuated. I pretty much lost everything when I went into the shelter, but what little I had left got soaked and then packed onto a truck. They said they will deliver it all back to the parking lot of the shelter next week, but I can’t imagine there will be anything worth saving. I got up today thinking that’s it -- I’m done -- but then I decided to come here.”
C. is a survivor of childhood incest, and like many survivors of crime and abuse, she has frequently thought of suicide in moments of desperation and hopelessness. Hurricane Sandy is a stressor that not only has stripped many our clients of their homes and possessions, it has taken what little “emotional reserve” they had left to deal with life’s stresses.
C., now more than ever, depends on her Safe Horizon therapist to help her remain emotionally safe and to envision a future for herself so that she can even begin to navigate the more practical aftermath of Sandy.
Survivors of sexual assault reported delays in responses from law enforcement and criminal justice resources. The city’s usually prompt response to new reports of child abuse was also compromised. For homeless youth, the storm made their situations even worse.
Being homeless means they already lacked resources, including clothing, electricity, and heat; and New York City has few resources where homeless youth can find safety and help. That threadbare safety net of services they already had was weakened further when the storm destroyed the drop-in location for another nonprofit organization helping homeless LGBTQ youth in Manhattan. Our Streetwork drop-in centers have seen homeless kids who suffered cuts, bruises, and other physical injuries, because they were outside in Staten Island with no place to go when the storm hit. Some of the youth told us that they had tried to return to their families. Yet even with the impending storm, their families wouldn’t take them in. Streetwork is now seeing more teens coming in to our locations, each desperate for help and resources.
Streetwork: Lower East Side
Our Streetwork staff works every day with homeless youth, a population already facing difficult situations and that was especially affected by the storm. Lower East Side site director John Welch describes what Streetwork faced:
“As the storm was hitting and before the subway shut down on Sunday, we did outreach to distribute info to youth and others on the street re: where they could go during the storm and to warn them to go there. These people had no access to info to speak of because they had no computer access.
“We lost power at the Lower East Side site over the weekend and it wasn’t restored until the following Friday. We couldn’t provide services on site without electricity, so we did the program as Street outreach to homeless youth and others displaced by the storm who were still stuck in a totally underserved and blacked-out Lower East Side, Wednesday through Friday. We also redeployed a staff member who lives in Harlem to help keep the Overnight shelter going during the storm.
“When we did outreach Wednesday through Friday, some of us got into Manhattan on bicycles and the rest of the staff carpooled. We made sandwiches and hard-boiled eggs at home and bought large amounts of bottled water to make bagged lunches to distribute. We also made sterile syringe packs and condoms packets to distribute because the other syringe exchange program in the neighborhood was closed, and risk behavior always spikes in these kinds of disasters. In addition we gave out socks, hats, coats, and hygiene supplies. We got relevant information to communicate—storm shelter locations, which hospitals and homeless shelters were still functioning, food distribution sites, resources for those on Methadone unable to access medication. We did outreach on foot and on bicycle. We also left a team of two at the center to help kids who may have come to the door.
“We reached between 25 and 50 kids each day. Some situations: people who weathered the storm under scaffolding to avoid shelters and crowds; some walked from Staten Island to get away from the devastation there; a couple who had been found ineligible for the family shelter system (shelters didn’t believe they were homeless) and had nowhere to go but the street and got caught in the storm; people who had not had food for 24 hours; people who were physically injured in the darkness; a young man who was accused of looting by police because he had a flashlight on him; many people who needed emotional help to manage feelings raised by the disaster; a person who left the homeless shelter because lights were out; many people who had no information or resources in the LES neighborhood because emergency response was very delayed there.”
Safe Horizon’s 24-hour programs – our domestic violence shelters, homeless youth shelter, and hotlines – stayed opened during Hurricane Sandy and kept serving people in crisis, thanks to the incredible hard work and dedication of our staff (some of whom worked double- and triple-shifts, or staffed other locations). Many hotline calls were from people who remembered Safe Horizon as a resource for help during 9/11 and our history of helping victims and who requested storm assistance. We were able to redirect them to resources for hurricane shelters, food and other material assistance, and provided them with crisis management planning. Two of our domestic violence shelters lost power and we managed to evacuate the affected families to other Safe Horizon locations.
Because Safe Horizon is a trusted resource for survivors of crime and abuse, and because many of our clients are among the most vulnerable victims of the storm, requests for assistance are pouring into our Community Program offices and Child Advocacy Centers. Our Queens Child Advocacy Center saw 40 families who were located in Far Rockaway – one of the heaviest-hit areas in New York City – come in urgently seeking help, along with other families.
Staten Island, NY: Damaged barge washes up onto island (Safe Horizon)
In Staten Island, the borough most damaged by the storm, cases of sexual assault have risen. Tragically natural disasters often lead to increased crime rates because of the stress they produce and because police are overwhelmed with emergency response. Being able to keep our Community program in the borough open has been critical to helping new victims get the advocacy they truly need. In addition, with our site being open, we can help the Staten Island community by distributing coats, blankets, and gift cards for necessities to victims and their impacted families thanks to our supporters.
How You've Helped Us
The Robin Hood Foundation provided a generous gift of $25,000 to help our staff maintain client services.
The TJX Companies (TJ Maxx) worked with a community vendor to donate more than 300 children's and women's coats, pajamas, and blankets. TJX donated an additional 500 gift cards to help families purchase more supplies.
Our supporters donated thousands of dollars in much-needed funds to help us replace material goods (blankets, clothing, baby kits, etc.) for clients, and helped us cover emergency transportation costs to move clients from hard-hit sites to safer locations.
Our neighbors in areas like Park Slope donated everything from car seats to blankets for children and families to use.
We’re truly thankful for the wonderful support we’ve received on behalf of the children, young people, and families who depend on us.