Occupy Sandy was a “Godsend” for Coney Island public housing residents who were stranded without power, food or water after Hurricane Sandy, according to Deborah Franklin-Reed, the president of the residents association for the public housing development Coney Island houses. Franklin-Reed credited the People’s Relief, field volunteers working with Occupy Sandy, with helping pioneer distribution methods that the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) is now planning to make available to other public housing developments in Coney Island.
Franklin-Reed said she was satisfied with the government’s response to Hurricane Sandy and applauded other non-governmental aid groups such as Green City Force, but she singled out the People’s Relief volunteers working with Occupy Sandy for effusive praise. (The People’s Relief is a group of field volunteers who work closely with Occupy Sandy members and base operations in Brooklyn, but do not identify as members of “Occupy Sandy.”) “Occupy Sandy came in and they were like a godsend to us,” she said. “Green City Force has been here. NYCHA has been knocking on doors. They started knocking on doors prior to the hurricane. But for the most part we’ve had volunteers from Occupy Sandy. They have been assisting us.”
Franklin-Reed added, “When we see them, we are at ease, because we know that they are supporting us 100%.”
Eric Moed, a People’s Relief volunteer, worked closely with Franklin-Reed to improvise and expand the mass distribution of aid supplies—including blankets, food, water, and flashlights—in Coney Island houses and neighboring development O’Dwyer Gardens.
As the weather got cold, it became harder for Franklin-Reed and other volunteers to distribute supplies outdoors. “Speaking with Eric [Moed], I said to him that we wouldn’t be able to withstand this cold,” Franklin-Reed said.
Franklin-Reed and Moed innovated a solution: cleaning and repurposing community rooms inside the public housing as indoor aid distribution sites. “So as I said, I personally here at Coney Island Homes went into the community room, cleared out a spot, we set up tables,” Franklin-Reed recalled. “Eric and his group they came in, they helped us to separate that stuff.”
Franklin-Reed said that the use of community rooms was so successful she has convinced Ilma Joyner, the president of the residents association of the adjacent O’Dwyer Gardens development, to clear space in a community room as well, and has recommended it to all of the neighboring residents association presidents. Since some developments do not have central community rooms, they have asked NYCHA to identify and clear suitable spaces to serve as distribution areas. Take Action News reached out to NYCHA to confirm that these plans were in effect, but as of Monday at 11 am, they had yet to confirm it.
Franklin-Reed reported that NYCHA responded positively to the request. NYCHA “assured me that they are able to do so in a very short amount of time,” Franklin-Reed said. “And we’re going to get as many spaces open and available so that supplies will be delivered to all of the residents and all of the complexes out here.”
In addition, Moed and 6-7 other volunteers, were responsible for erecting the People’s Relief’s basic distribution infrastructure on Coney Island. The volunteers working with Moed included Anna Lemler, Michael Premo, and Lara and Adrien Weibgen. Adrien recently decided to take a leave of absence from Yale Law School for a semester to continue relief work in areas affected by Hurricane Sandy. On Wednesday night, after two days of working in and around the public housing developments, Moed and his colleagues decided there was enough need in the area to establish a supply hub for Occupy Sandy on Coney Island at the Coney Island Gospel Assembly Church at 2828 Neptune Avenue. Moed announced it in one of a series of urgent Facebook posts that he promoted on friends’ news feeds:
UPDATE: The Coney Island Housing Projects are in such URGENT need that I am setting up a Hub at 2828 Neptune Avenue to collect, sort and dispatch goods and people. THE NEED FOR VOLUNTEERS IS IMMEDIATE. There is still no power, heat, food, FEMA, or Red Cross. This is LIFE OR DEATH- please choose life and come join us. Dress warm and be ready to work. Thanks.
Moed and fellow Occupy Sandy volunteer David Irwin created a simple map directing volunteers how to get from the subway to the supply hub at Gospel Assembly Church and from the hub to the public housing developments to distribute aid.
The People’s Relief team also set up an auxiliary distribution hub in an office above a strip club at 1201 Surf Ave.
The People’s Relief’s Coney Island Gospel Assembly Church hub, auxiliary hub in the office above the strip club, and aid distribution spaces in the community rooms of Coney Island’s public housing developments represent the tail end of a massive supply chain that begins at Occupy Sandy headquarters at the Church of St. Luke and Matthew and The Church of St. Jacobi in the Clinton Hill and Sunset Park neighborhoods of Brooklyn. As the New York Times reported, Occupy Sandy has converted the two churches into machine-like warehouses for gathering food and other relief supplies, sorting it, and sending it out in cars with teams of volunteers to hardest hit parts of New York City. Moed and his colleagues’ work in Coney Island is just an example of what volunteers do on the ground in their destinations to further improve the aid distribution process.
Ken Higginbotham, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in New York City, was aware of widespread volunteering efforts, but not aware of Occupy Sandy specifically. “There are people who are working all over,” he said. “I don’t know specifically of any one particular group.”
There have been by now numerous reports of the dismal conditions in the public housing projects in Coney Island, Brooklyn–as well as other coastal neighborhoods such as the Rockaways in Queens and Red Hook in Brooklyn–after Hurricane Sandy knocked out electricity and heat, and flooded the buildings’ basements. The Gothamist featured Eric Moed’s description of the horrors he saw while canvassing in Coney Island. The stories of Coney Island public housing residents reported in the New York Daily News corroborate Moed’s account.
In total, Hurricane Sandy caused 80,000 residents of New York City public housing to lose power and nearly as many to lose heat and hot water. As of Sunday, 13 days after the storm hit, 6,847 remained without electricity, and 18,140 remained without heat, according to the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). 5,988 of the 6,847 City residents who still do not have electricity, and 10,437 of the 18,140 City residents who still do not have heat, live in Brooklyn, according to NYCHA.
The Coney Island public housing development consists of 5 14-story buildings that house 1,203 people. The entire development, along with the other public housing developments in Coney Island, was without electricity, heat or hot water for 12 days after Sandy hit.
Franklin-Reed confirmed that electricity had been restored in the Coney Island housing development, but that NYCHA was providing temporary heat using a generator. The 974 residents of the neighboring O’Dwyer Gardens homes, however, are among the 5,988 Brooklyn public housing residents who remain without electricity.
NYCHA has promised that electricity will be restored to the remaining public housing developments by Monday and heat will be restored by mid-week.
About the Author (Author Profile)
Daniel Marans is Executive PRoducer of Take Action News with David Shuster.