Leslie Matthews |
This is not a feel good story.
I must say that it has been truly inspiring to see the out-pouring of community support and Vermonters "get er done" attitude over the past 10 days. Some people have really put in Herculean effort (and are starting to get sick from the mold/toxins as a result). Many have sweat and strained for complete strangers or spent hours and days helping friends in need.
Irene took a toll on many in our communities, the effects of which we are going to be seeing for many months to come. I fear that some families will never fully recover.
With some other VWC volunteers, we've focused our efforts on the Berlin mobile home park where over 70 families have been displaced. These are very economically marginalized families that struggled *before* the storm and have now lost pretty much everything. They are not going to "bounce back" -- many are already in severe debt, and owe on the mobile home that they now will likely have to pay $4,500 to remove from the lot. Others owned their homes outright, but will have very difficult times finding long-term affordable housing other than putting a down-payment on another mobile home (hopefully on higher ground).
Other friends and VWC members have been in different communities and neighborhoods, yet seen similar suffering. Families just on the edge that have been royally screwed by Irene. It's likely a lot of these families will slide into poverty.
This crisis has made me reflect a lot about how prepared (or not) we are as a community. Certain things are being coordinated well -- people have access to food and clothing, clean-up efforts have been both well-organized and spontaneously effective -- but other areas are at a deficit in terms of coordination. Like housing solutions. And mental health services. And medical advice.
Frankly, and this is where it gets messy, I'm more than a little concerned about the long-term response and the effect this will have on our communities. Where the hell are people supposed to go? How are people going to afford this? What are they supposed to do when they get conflicting answers from different FEMA people or when they ask their leaders / representatives who just say "I don't know, I'll get back to you."
I went to the meeting in Berlin tonight for families at Weston's mobile home and other homeowners on Route 12. It was packed with people who needed some answers, or at least a little hope. They got neither. And I understand people on the panel -- selectboard people, FEMA reps, town employees, etc. -- are only human. But it was seriously the least informative informational meeting I have *ever* attended.
A. Call FEMA, get in the queue: Mostly everyone has done this. FEMA came through Weston's.
B. Call 211 (why, is the question most people asked, other than to notify FEMA that it is indeed an emergency. check!)
C. A very thorough explanation of flood plains and river mitigation
D. Recommendations on the height of cinder blocks to raise homes above the flood level
I'm not sure that anyone walked away with much information they didn't already know. Truly sad and somewhat shameful.
Thanks for listening..
It's been a hard week on Vermont.
But like a sharpening stone, this abrasion
will hone our values and reactions
into something sharp and powerful
Also here is a video about what has been going on at Weston's: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6IHkAtTSgE