Experiences of Displacement after Hurricane Sandy

Creative Time Reports, a journalistic publication that works to “speak truth to power and upend traditional takes on current issues,” recently published a series of multimedia stories depicting the devastation of Hurricane Sandy. Entitled “The Time In-between: Displacement After Hurricane Sandy,” the videos illustrate the temporary places that people lived after the storm.

The first installment of the multimedia series tells the story of Alex Woods, a resident of the Queens beachfront adult-care facility, Belle Harbor Manor.

Like many adult-care facilities throughout the northeast, the residents were not evacuated before Hurricane Sandy made landfall (even though the space was located in a designated “Zone A” area.) Escorted by New York City firefighters on October 30th through freezing cold water, Woods was taken to the Park Slope Armory. The space was occupied by hundreds of displaced people taken from adult-care facilities throughout the region. Comparatively speaking, the Armory was comfortable, providing an abundance of clothing, food, and wellness activities.

Three weeks later, the Armory closed. Woods and other residents from Belle Harbor Manor were taken to Kings Hotel in East New York, Brooklyn. The facility was dilapidated and cramped. Residents slept on narrow cots in small rooms with three to four other people. Having one elevator in the building, residents with wheelchairs and walkers struggled to move about the space. To them, Kings Hotel was  a prison.

Several weeks later, the residents moved yet again to Milestone Residence — a transitional psychiatric institution located in an isolated area of Queens. At this facility, residents experienced ” lack of heat and hot water, middle-of-the-night fire alarms, and long meal lines.” Since the building was scheduled to be demolished soon after, there was little cooperation from staff to improve conditions. As a result, their mental health significantly deteriorated.

After three and a half months of displacement, Woods and other Belle Harbor Manor residents were granted permission to move back into their homes. Unfortunately, many of their belongings had been stolen during the renovation period, and the trauma of their experience remained.

Woods’s story is part of a several part series documented by Sandy Storyline, a collaborative documentary to share experiences and relief efforts on between those affected by Hurricane Sandy. It is a project of HousingisaHumanRight.org, Interoccupy.net, and the MIT Center for Civic Media. (civic.mit.edu.)

In the aftermath of the inhumane displacement that ensued after Hurricane Sandy, we need significant policy changes that ensure that residents, like Woods, can tell a different story after a storm. Specifically, we need different protocols and better facilities for displaced persons, as well as better communication with those living in “Zone A” regions. We stand in solidarity with those that still suffer from Hurricane Sandy, and hope that we, as New Yorkers, can learn enough from this experience to ensure that history does not repeat itself.

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