The horrors of FEMA disaster ‘relief’; the glory of private efforts
“The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’” — President Ronald Reagan
Those wise and yet haunting words spoken by one of our nation’s greatest presidents couldn’t ring more true — especially today, as winter sets in on an estimated 130,000 of our fellow Americans who are still struggling without power. Many live without heat, hot water or inhabitable homes and question the government’s efforts to alleviate their condition.
Amid the election frenzy, several mainstream media outlets instantly praised the Obama administration’s response to the Hurricane Sandy devastation in the Northeast. But let’s look beneath the congratulatory headlines to see the real and horrifying picture of what’s happening.
Right now, homeless Americans are literally freezing, wrapped in blankets and trash bags as they struggle to survive in FEMA tent cities such as New Jersey’s “Camp Freedom,” which reportedly “resembles a prison camp.”
“Sitting there last night, you could see your breath,” displaced resident Brian Sotelo told the Asbury Park Press. “At (Pine Belt), the Red Cross made an announcement that they were sending us to permanent structures up here that had just been redone, that had washing machines and hot showers and steady electric, and they sent us to tent city. We got (expletive).”
Sotelo said Blackhawk helicopters patrol the skies “all day and night,” and a black car with tinted windows surveys the camp while the government moves heavy equipment past the tents at night. According to the story, reporters aren’t even allowed in the fenced complex, where lines of displaced residents form outside portable toilets. Security guards are posted at every door, and residents can’t even use the toilet or shower without first presenting ID.
“They treat us like we’re prisoners,” Ashley Sabol told Reuters. “It’s bad to say, but we honestly feel like we’re in a concentration camp.”
Snow and icy slush seep into living areas through the bottoms of the government tents.
Meanwhile, officials are said to be banning residents from taking pictures and even cutting off Wi-Fi and power access.
“After everyone started complaining, and they found out we were contacting the press, they brought people in,” Sotelo said. “Every time we plugged in an iPhone or something, the cops would come and unplug them.”
He added: “Everybody is angry over here. It’s like being in prison.”
In New York, residents of Gerritsen Beach have banded together to survive.
“With all due respect to the federal issue, we’re used to taking care of ourselves,” Doreen Garson, the acting volunteer fire chief, told The Washington Post as area residents received hot meals outside a trailer. “I don’t know what FEMA is really doing for anyone.”
Some citizens say FEMA has distributed checks to fix their homes, but bureaucratic hurdles mean relief amounts are determined inconsistently and may be insufficient to cover damage. In some cases, the rebuilding funds are distributed even when reconstruction doesn’t make sense because the destroyed homes are located in high-risk areas.
FEMA’s bureaucratic tape is such a mess that states have had to hire consulting firms just to navigate the paperwork, with consultants earning as much as $180 an hour — all of which is billed to American taxpayers.
Meanwhile, FEMA — which previously provided trailers to victims of Hurricane Katrina that made residents sick from toxic levels of formaldehyde — will now bring more temporary homes to New York and New Jersey. The government assures us that this time the homes have been approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, FEMA failed to have bottled water and other supplies ready for storm victims — a week after the storm hit — and was forced to seek help from private vendors to meet residents’ needs.
While generous citizens fill trucks with donations and goods for hurricane survivors, FEMA is reportedly demanding they stop — because the federal agency has “strict rules on what can and can’t be accepted.”
To make matters worse, FEMA now expects Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to appear before Congress and request a taxpayer bailout for FEMA flood-insurance operations while it burns through $200 to $300 million a day.
Where did we go wrong? The moment we began looking to government to fill the role of caretaker, provider and savior.
What happened to the days when communities and churches were the places Americans turned to for help? We need to get back to basics, where Americans care for our brothers and sisters and help them in times such as these.
In one brilliant example of communities banding together, Staten Island residents organized their own citizen-led team of volunteers and started a donation drive, bringing massive trucks of aid into their community from Virginia. They’ve worked with local churches, VFW posts and businesses to bring in needed supplies and help with cleanup efforts.
In yet another stunning example of private efforts, veterans of both the Israeli army and U.S. military descended on New York to help with rescue operations and relief assistance when the government was said to be absent.
Churches and businesses are reaching out to people who’ve been displaced, packing U-Haul trucks and 18-wheelers with food, diapers, blankets, toiletries and other needed goods.
“We decided that it wasn’t enough for us to simply declare the gospel; we’ve got to demonstrate it,” pastor Jerry Young said from New Hope Baptist Church in Mississippi. “What we’re trying to do now is demonstrate the gospel.”
Just as these grassroots volunteers have been sacrificing so much to help displaced citizens and clean up storm-ravaged areas in the Northeast, I urge America’s citizen volunteers, churches and businesses to follow their examples.
Let’s stop making the mistake of expecting government to be our savior in times like these.
We are told eight times in the Bible to love our neighbor. This Thanksgiving week, America has an extraordinary opportunity to do just that. Let’s band together and show our fellow citizens that we care and we won’t leave them to the “mercy” of the government in their time of need.