Queens Congregations Urges Bloomberg to Fix Hurricane Relief Program at Major Community Meeting
QUEENS, N.Y. — An interfaith network of more than 50 houses of worship across Queens brought together by Queens Congregations United for Action (QCUA), held a community meeting Monday, in which more than 50 clergy and 700 Queens residents pressed elected officials to call on Mayor Bloomberg to improve cleanup efforts. Numerous residents of Rockaway Beach, Far Rockaway, and Inwood are still struggling to rebuild their lives after Hurricane Sandy, with limited public assistance. Faith leaders processed into the meeting by candlelight to draw attention to the thousands in their congregations who still lack power.
“Six weeks after Sandy we have an assessment of the system that says it isn’t working, and hundreds of people from 50 congregations are saying unanimously that the city has failed in the Rockaways,” said Joseph McKellar, QCUA Executive Director. “Faith leaders are calling on Mayor Bloomberg to commit to a series of action steps to make his Rapid Response program live up to its name. It’s shocking that a full six weeks after Sandy, so little progress has been made.”
QCUA, an affiliate of national faith-based community organization PICO, also released a study and action plan that outlines 10 urgent reforms needed to improve recovery efforts, as well as an assessment of recovery efforts, surveys of residents, and previously untold stories of people still struggling to regain a sense of normalcy. Action steps include: fixing the city’s Rapid Repair Program to get the electricity and heat back; creating a city fund to help immigrants who can’t qualify for relief programs; and creating a community-driven process to shape priorities and plans for the city’s $42 billion request for relief from Congress so that areas like the Rockaways aren’t left behind. Copies of the action plan are available upon request.
Monday’s event, convened at St. Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church in Far Rockaway, featured speakers including Most Reverend Paul Sanchez, Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Brooklyn; Father Fulgencio Gutierrez, Pastor, Saint Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church and St. Gertrude Catholic Church in Far Rockaway; Bishop Joseph Williams, Senior Pastor, Christ Church International in Jamaica; Rabbi Elizabeth Wood, Associate Rabbi, Reform Temple of Forest Hills, and Bishop Lennox Hall, Senior Pastor, Glory Light Tabernacle International Ministry.
Among the members of the community who shared their stories was Valerie Close, a resident of Rockaway Beach who lost her basement, two vehicles, and her daycare business and still has no electricity or heat in her home. Lakesha Deer and her brother, Pastor Michael Deer, whose apartment was flooded, and for whom heat and electricity have not yet been restored, are now living in their church and spending most of their time running a makeshift distribution center out of the sanctuary. Roha Singh, a homeowner who currently has water coming in through his roof due to damaged and missing shingles, has been denied insurance coverage, but hasn’t received the denial letter yet, making him ineligible to receive FEMA money. He already repaired the heat, hot water and electricity with his own money, which cost approximately $3,000.
New York State Senator Malcolm Smith called upon Mayor Bloomberg to fix the Rapid Repair program immediately and include mold remediation. “We know there is a growing mold epidemic in the Rockaway Peninsula,” said Senator Smith. “Tomorrow morning, I am carrying your message and getting on the phone with Mayor Bloomberg’s office to demand that he move quickly to reform Rapid Repair because lives and health are at stake.”
State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo also spoke, saying he would call on New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to create pathways for all New Yorkers to apply for disaster relief, including immigrants. Representatives from the offices of Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg also spoke at the community meeting.
In the weeks ahead, QCUA will continue working with faith leaders from across Queens to apply pressure to Mayor Bloomberg and other elected officials to stop neglecting the outer boroughs and speed up the recovery process before the deep winter freeze sets in. Seven hundred people committed to call Mayor Bloomberg’s office today; more than 5,000 petitions addressed to Mayor Bloomberg will be collected in congregations across Queens in the coming two weeks with the demands listed above; and faith leaders will again request a meeting with Mayor Bloomberg after being ignored for the last three weeks. Faith leaders also will work with State Senator Smith to press for the reforms outlined in last night’s meeting.