November 17, 2012
Imagine, for a moment, that you have lost your home in a natural disaster and with it most of your possessions. It’s wintertime, you live on the East Coast, and your old neighborhood has been leveled. What cash you have is being used for the most basic of necessities; you don’t have enough money to move into a hotel and even if you did they are all full anyway.
You have nowhere to go. You are completely reliant on the government for subsistence.
Life is as bad as it can get – or is it?
You learn that you will be moved from the miserable tent city where you are now being housed to a new temporary facility that used to be, of all things, a prison.
While some officials see this as the state making the best use of available resources, others see it as a prelude of things to come, should societal order break down at some point in the future.
‘They might as well use it’
Life in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy is still dicey for many New Yorkers and New Jerseyans who continue to suffer mightily in its wake. With so many residents now homeless, the state of New York is considering reopening the recently closed Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island as a way to temporarily house people displaced by the storm and this past week’s nasty winter storm, The New York Post reported.
The facility, which was closed last December, served as a medium-security prison. Officials say it has the capacity to feed and house as many as 900 people who now have nowhere else to go.
“Our facilities staff have to go through it to determine what it would take to get it up and running for such a purpose,” Peter Cutler, a spokesman for the state Department of Corrections, told the paper.
“Of course, the challenge is the fact that it was closed a year ago and all of the major infrastructure components, such as boilers and wastewater system, were deactivated,” he added.
As many as 40,000 New Yorkers need shelter following the one-two punch of Sandy and the recent nor’easter. On Staten Island alone, officials said, some 5,200 people have applied for temporary FEMA housing, but like the FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the bureaucracy is painstakingly slow – only about two dozen people have been successfully placed in housing, say federal officials, leaving us to wonder if this agency’s historic bureaucratic inertia is still George W. Bush’s fault.
At least the Post understands the irony of using a former prison to house post-storm refugees, saying such an arrangement may “resemble a scene out of ‘The Walking Dead.'” But not everyone thinks it’s a bad idea.
“It’s empty. They might as well use it,” said Rob Conigatti, 39, who lost his Dongan Hills home and is now staying with his extended family. “At least they have the right facilities. You can’t keep them in schools. The kids gotta go to school.”
Note to self – Don’t rely on the government
A lot of folks are staying in homes without power and heat and are merely riding out the hard times. Others are staying with friends and family.
Many others; however, don’t have such choices. So they have to take what they get, essentially. In this case, they get FEMA.
“We have not got into the discussion of longer term transitional housings,” said Councilman James Oddo (R-SI). “If there is no other viable option, it shouldn’t be taken off the table because of a quote unquote stigma. Between being cold and having people dry, in a warm, secure place, I know what my choice is.”
But, of course, he doesn’t really have to make that choice.
Some have firmly rejected the notion. That includes Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro, according to sources who spoke with the Post.
A number of residents hardest hit by the storms feel the same way.
“I lost everything, but I still have my pride. We don’t have to stay in a prison,” said Wally Martinez, 44, who is staying at the Mount Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Shore Acres with his wife, two kids and family dog. “My brother was once in that very prison and my mother used to visit him regularly. She used to tell me how miserable he looked and how filthy and disgusting that prison was.”
If there is a better reason to be prepared to take care of yourself in times of turmoil than having to rely on the “charity” of government, we can’t think of one.