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"Catch 22" in the Rockaways : The Twice Displaced Victims of Hurricane Sandy

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"Let me see if I've got this straight: in order to be grounded, I've got to be crazy and I must be crazy to keep flying. But if I ask to be grounded, that means I'm not crazy any more and I have to keep flying"
~Yossarian "Catch 22"

On October 29th, the night of a full Blood Moon, the rapacious Super Storm Sandy made landfall, democratically destroying everything within its almost thousand-mile girth. The ocean met the bay in the Rockaways, in a cataclysmic apocalypse of firestorms and floods of biblical proportions.

This Friday, Brett Scudder, his wife and four children, will be made homeless again, for the second time in 40 days. First evicted when the storm of a century flooded his home and now after only a month, by FEMA's temporary housing! Adding insult to injury, the night of the storm, they were given no choice, under mandatory evacuation by Mayor Bloomberg and shuttled around from shelter to shelter like homeless indigents, 'disrespected and treated like animals' I heard over and over again. The mental and physical stress is incalculable.

I first met Brett on a HuffPost Live segment about the Red Cross response to Hurricane Sandy. I loved his passion, courage and indignation. We became Facebook friends and I couldn't believe how he was reluctantly drafted into service. But he, like so many I have met, so magnificently answered the call. I cannot say enough about the victims and the volunteers! These are the finest people I have ever met.

The Rockaway community is close knit and hard working. 'We take care of each other' is a familiar strain. Once an idyllic place for carefree summers by the sea and now bearing an eerie resemblance to Dresden after the bombings of WWII or an Hieronymus Bosch painting. As far as the eye can see, a war zone of sand-filled streets, unrecognizably mangled million dollar homes and one room shacks co-mingled in the Devils Playground, the aftermath of the storm.

No power. No phone. No TV. Catch 22. You can't get power restored if you don't have a FEMA inspection, you can't get a FEMA inspection if you don't have a phone or internet, and even if you did apply, you don't know if you've been approved. You can't use FEMA money to eat on and the Red Cross won't give you a food card if you have FEMA assistance. You can't feed your family if you can't get to your job, you can't get to your job if there is no transportation and your car was buried under seven feet of salt water. And, you have no way of knowing food and clothing are a block away if you live in Far Rockaway and have no power for 37 days.

Dr. 'Doc' Daneeka: You got it, that's Catch-22.
Yossarian: Whoo... That's some catch, that Catch-22.
Dr. 'Doc' Daneeka: It's the best there is.

There is nobody in charge! There is little or no communication between all the agencies, FEMA, LIPA, the mayor's Rapid Repair, SBA and Red Cross. There are, however, thousands of adhoc helpers, hundreds of Facebook pages with urgent pleas for mold cleanup (now the most dangerous of the health risks) everyone, including me, has the hacking "Sandy Cough." In so many cases they have lost everything and yet they spend their days trying to get resources to help others.

Without a doubt it is a "Tale of Two Sandys." A friend is being put up in the ritzy Beekman Towers high above the United Nations, who can't sing the praises of FEMA high enough, another, 3 1/2 hours away in Maryland and others I have interviewed shuttled around in the middle of the night by the Red Cross and FEMA to homeless shelters witnessing all manner of unspeakable perversion, "men masturbating and having homosexual sex in front of children." These people are prisoners, incarcerated like criminals by the system.

It doesn't make any sense and it's just plain immoral. FEMA has hundreds and hundreds of heated trailers sitting idle in Pennsylvania and Connecticut and as many trucks filled with thousands of pounds of food and water sitting untouched, waiting for the next storm! Doing a 'heck of a job.'

This morning, as the temperatures plunged into the 30s, Brett posted a letter on Facebook. FEMA is kicking him out on Friday, thousands more will be dispossessed from FEMA housing December 31rst!

It's hard to believe this is America. It's more like a third world country... these are people whose $400,000 homes were destroyed in Breezy Point and one Far Rockaway evacuee said, "This is worse than Katrina, at least the Super Dome had more than one toilet."

Brett speaks for thousands of disenfranchised, displaced and dispossessed. He does not feel sorry for himself. Sure he's mad, but in a strange way it has strengthened his resolve. I defy you not to be touched by this mans courage.

Just had a talk with our children & my oldest son asked me to promise him that they will not end up on the street. That is one of the most thought provoking and hurtful things I could have heard from them and they sounded so worried and down. As much as I wanted to make that promise I know I couldn't as I don't want to get their hopes up so I told him I couldn't but that I was working on it and would do whatever I can to make sure they don't end up on the street.

It's a nerve wrecking thing when your day is spent helping people out of their problems and now having your own and can't see a way out of it. It's bad enough when the children become worried and are asking for promises you know you can keep. Even worse is when mommy is looking for that magic to happen that makes everything alright and you can't make it happen. There's a surreal awakening feeling that comes over you and it truly leave you gasping for air as reality sets in and you start questioning yourself on what you have been doing and if it really means anything.

While I can rough it out and take anything that comes at me, when it comes to our children I take things on a whole different level and it impacts a deeper inner core that is usually protected and secured from everyday life and work challenges. The reality of this whole storm issue and how relief and support has come to The Rockaways has shaken me on every level today. As much as I feared the worst seeing how things were developing I prayed hard that it wouldn't get to this as I have been holding down the mental impacts of dealing with everything else so far.

Now this is a new level of how I will be looking at things and addressing them. My fight for resources, services and programs for families affected by the storm have been kicked up a few notches and tomorrow I awaken with new fuel, focus and dedication towards the issues.

I am eternally grateful to everyone who has reached out with support and comfort through this as I need as much help and support as I can get to take care of this need and continue doing the work I have to in The Rockaways. It's good to see/know that what I do so religiously for others is now being done for me and my family. So much to be done and I can't leave it now, must see it through as much and as best I can.

These are the kind of challenges that defines your ability to stay focused, strong, committed and motivated to a cause and seeing it through. Imagine what other families are going through with issues like this.

Much Love Always and God Bless. One Love.

~Brett A. Scudder

(That's Brett, the last shot in the video)

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