Living in a hotel for months may sound luxurious, but for parents like Flora Mendez Salinas who are dealing with the effects of Superstorm Sandy, the isolation and added burdens are tremendous.
When Sandy hit in October 2012, Salinas suddenly lost her belongings, her apartment and her job. Her story is typical for many of the families living in limbo in more than 3,000 New York City-area hotel rooms.
“There are a lot of families still trying to survive in their homes,” said Christina Hujanen, a Red Cross casework supervisor. “A lot of them don’t want to leave for fear of things being taken. They’re just hoping that something will happen that will allow them to go back to how it was before the storm.”
Despite attempting to make it on their own, many storm survivor’s bank accounts are empty, their credit cards are maxed, and they can’t take living without running water, heat or electricity through winter. Each day, more people are requesting housing assistance from New York City authorities and are being placed in hotels.
But few hotels allow cooking in the rooms, which means families like Salinas’ must buy every meal — a costly endeavor. The Red Cross helps with debit cards so families won’t go hungry.
In addition, in the worst impacted areas, Red Cross trucks are still handing out hot meals and snacks, adding daily to the more than 10.5 million meals and snacks served since Sandy hit. The Red Cross also is funding area food banks to deliver grocery boxes to families who have the means to cook but no income, since so many people lost their jobs when their place of employment was destroyed in an already tight economy.
Salinas is also far away from her neighborhood and familiar surroundings. Her 9-year old daughter, Odalys, goes to school in Brooklyn where the family lived before their first-floor apartment flooded and now is uninhabitable. It’s a two-hour trip from their Manhattan hotel to Brooklyn to get Odalys to school, where she has friends and teachers who know her. Salinas has kept her daughter in that school despite the distance, knowing that getting children back into their routines as soon as possible is key to their recovery.
These trips to the school have sometimes caused Salinas to miss meetings with caseworkers at her hotel. On days when her caseworker found Salinas at the hotel, but her bilingual child was in school, Salinas didn’t have a translator. After Salinas confided her uneasiness about her future to a Red Cross Spanish-speaking volunteer, the volunteer and caseworker worked together to get some of the answers she needed. A new plan is emerging: to move Odalys to a Manhattan school, find day care for her 10-month-old son, and secure an apartment and a job so she can start anew.
“I was about to start a factory job, and I had daycare for my baby so I could work there while Odalys was in school,” Salinas said. “And then the flood waters filled our apartment and I can’t ever go back there. The factory is no more. I hate taking handouts and living this way. I want to work, be independent and, with help from their dad, just care for my kids.”