From homeless to helpless

Tuesday January 15, 2013

"At first I was disappointed, but with the way everything is going now, what they’re coming up with and how there’s no possible way with the federal government. ... I’m kind of ashamed with the federal government and the way they’re handling this," as one Jamaica homeowner told the Reformer on Monday.

It looks like you can chalk this one up to red tape winning again.

The "this" we’re referring to was the fact that his and several other Water Street homeowners’ calls for financial help, after a year of applying for a FEMA program which provides buy-outs for landowners whose homes are destroyed by floods, had been denied.

Consider that these homeowners, along with many others around the state, have been essentially left homeless since Tropical Storm Irene and the subsequent flooding that ravaged the state in August 2011.

That was almost 17 months ago!

In that time there had been meetings involving various town officials, conference calls and plenty of paperwork. And in the end, after one final cost/benefit analysis, those residents got the final denial from FEMA because, in order to qualify, there had to have been two incidents, with similar damage, within the last 10 years (which there wasn’t).

Which is ironic, in a way, because here in Brattleboro, the Brattleboro Housing Authority had a beast of a time collecting money from FEMA because, in that case, residents were living in an area known to flood. (BHA finally received funding this past September after it confirmed plans were still in progress to relocate residents from that area.)

Meanwhile, all this time residents drastically affected by Irene have existed in a state of limbo, waiting for help from the federal government and unable to take help from the state lest it affect the hoped-for federal money.

All is not doom and gloom, however. Sue Minter, who until this week had served as Vermont’s Irene Recovery Officer, said Vermont is not giving up on finding help for those around the state who have been told they’re not eligible for the aid.

"We’re not going to give up. We’re not going to leave them stranded. ... We made a lot of effort to see if we could get there, but we have come to the end of that line."

Those homeowners on Water Street had been hoping to have 75 percent of the buy-outs covered by FEMA; the other 25 percent would come from Community Development Block Grants. Now, there is no clear-cut plan for how to proceed.

"We’ll have to discuss, see what they offer, what the town has to do, see if there’s any restrictions and if the homeowners are going to benefit by it," Selectboard Chairwoman Alexa Clark told the Reformer. "Or if we’re going to have to say we did everything we could and let it be."

Well, let’s hope something more can be done for these folks -- our neighbors. Surely there’s some way to alleviate the red tape and streamline the process. Because we fear these incidents, where FEMA and the federal government will be expected to come in, take charge and help out in the case of disaster, are more than likely going to become more and more frequent. It was just a little over a year after most of the Northeast coast was spared from Irene that Sandy struck. And how can you forget Hurricane Katrina in 2005?

One thing’s for sure, the unforeseen realities that come with any storm disaster aren’t being overlooked by these Water Street residents.

"I hope the victims of (Hurricane) Sandy have better luck dealing with the federal government. I can see now why people are still having difficulty since (Hurricane) Katrina."

Let’s hope someone can find these folks some help ... fast.


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