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Interview with Alyssa Durnien, full time volunteer and affected resident, New Jersey

Phone interview with full time volunteer and affected resident Alyssa Durnien on the Jersey Shore
Interviewer: Max Liboiron
May 14, 2013.

Interviewer: Okay, so could you start by stating your full name and affiliation? And your affiliation is just what sort of role you played during Sandy.


Alicia: My name is Alyssa Durnien and I live in Keansburg, New Jersey. And I’ve been an organizer for Occupy Sandy New Jersey since about January, though I’ve been doing volunteer work since the storm.


Interviewer: You were doing what? Sorry.


Alicia: Volunteer work since the storm.


Interviewer: Oh, okay. And what kind of volunteer work were you doing?


Alicia: I was on the fire department Ladies Auxiliary and I was evacuating and knocking on doors, moving people, cooking for the fire department and the EMS and police department in my town for twelve days. I was effectively doing everything.


Interviewer: So you had a lot of interaction with the fire department?


Alicia: Yes.


Interviewer: That’s not something we’ve heard a lot before. Can you tell me how you sort of got involved with them?


Alicia: I was on the Ladies Auxiliary, and my brother–my ex-brother-in-law was on the fire department.


Interviewer: Okay.


Alicia: And I just–I’ve been a part of the organization Fire Corps.


Interviewer: Okay. And you were cooking for them, you said?


Alicia: Yup, I was cooking and cleaning up the fire house. I was helping them basically keeping them in good spirits while they were out doing evacuations and clean-ups.


Interviewer: Uh huh.


Alicia: Three days after the storm we were able to go out and I was able to assist them doing control—so if there was a gas main leak, moving clients and moving people away from the area that was affected.


Interviewer: Uh huh. And then tell me about the canvassing you did as well.


Alicia: The canvassing we did started around December and January. We started going out with a needs assessment form. Occupy Sandy New Jersey was a group of volunteers basically asking what kind of supplies people needed. What they needed immediately, advocacy, you know, whether they registered for FEMA or if they needed help registering for FEMA. Insurance questions. Seems like so long ago. Whether they needed work done on their house, if they needed people to gut and do muck out. What kind of volunteers they need in their community to help rebuild the area. And that’s been ongoing since the storm.


Interviewer: Were you involved in creating some of those canvassing forms?


Alicia: I piggybacked what Occupy Sandy New York had done and then added a few things. At the beginning of the storm we had partnerships with non-profits groups. I was serving hot meals out of the back of a U-Haul.


Interviewer: Oh, okay.


Alicia: That’s actually how I got involved with Occupy Sandy New Jersey. But we piggybacked on what they were doing in Occupy New York. Took their form and just made it–we did a little creative work. We added some questions.


Interviewer: What did you add? What did you tweak?


Alicia: We just added if people could use hot meals, if they needed food delivered to them, what time of the day would be best for them. And we also had non-perishable goods.


Interviewer: Uh huh. And did–


Alicia: [Inaudible 3:43]


Interviewer: Sorry. What was the last part?


Alicia: We had non-perishable goods. Same with [Inaudible] beginning right after the storm, and ongoing.


Interviewer: Uh huh.


Alicia: And we’re still doing that for certain families. As the numbers increase and they’re getting the ability to start working on their house, one of the things that I tend to tell people is if I can save you fifty dollars on non-perishable foods, you can put that fifty dollars back into replacing your house or fixing something within your dwelling to make it easier. And it took them awhile to catch on. And we weren’t going–I’m not going away. And now they’re opening up and accepting help more easily.


Interviewer: Okay. And so what are the numbers compared to when you first started to now, as to the number of people that you’re interacting with and helping out?


Alicia: In the beginning, it was about fifteen to twenty families a day. Now it’s up over forty a day. We have…we have a food pantry that’s set up that was only servicing its own–it was in a church, so it was only serving its own parish. And how it’s serving over a hundred and twenty families a week.


Interviewer: Uh huh.


Alicia: And it’s also attached to a soup kitchen, which was feeding about twenty to thirty meals a day. And now it’s over a hundred every single day, seven days a week.


Interviewer: Okay. And when do you see–like so one of the questions we’re asking people is how long they think recovery will take or how long do you think you’re going to keep doing this, this sort of food aid?


Alicia: When I first started, I thought it was going to be a couple of weeks. Now it’s more feeling it’s going to be over a year at least. I’d like to see people getting back into their houses feeling more comfortable coming and getting the services that we’re offering. But the numbers are increasing, not decreasing. And that’s kind of eye opening because people–I had students from Montclair, which is about an hour north of where I live. They came here yesterday. And we drove into one of the devastated areas. And a school bus full of students became–like you could hear a penny drop on the floor. They didn’t even know what to say. And they’re like “this is your life. This is what you do every day.” And I was like, “yeah, you mean it’s not normal?” Like, but they got a lesson, and they also realized that we are not back to normal and everyone thinks we are. They think that the storm is past and the damage should be over. And there’s houses in this community that haven’t even been touched yet. And there’s, you know, people just starting the cleaning process. And it’s six months later, so now they’re tackling mold and mildew and a lot of other issues that we didn’t think existed prior. It was eye opening. I mean they refreshed me, the students coming down.


Interviewer: So why do you think the numbers are increasing so much?


Alicia: I think the numbers are increasing because in the beginning, everyone relied on the FEMA hotels and the, you know, the places they were able to go and be housed. And as that runs out, people then have to start working on their own home. It kind of kicks the community into overdrive because a lot of the areas we’re dealing with don’t know how to deal with such mass casualties. They don’t–you know, our building department–my building department in Keansburg consists of two people. And one of them is a paid position. So it’s really one building inspector that has to inspect an entire house for thirty years. And now he’s being forced to inspect thirty homes a day. You know, it’s a higher increase in number and he just doesn’t know what he’s dealing with, how to do it. And he’s just trying to make it up as we’re making it–enforcing the issue of trying to get him to do it.


Interviewer: Right.


Alicia: And trying to talk. But now people who want to get warm, you can stay in your house without heat from [sneezes] Pardon me. Weather conditions are a little bit better so if you are stuck without electricity, you’re uncomfortable but you’re not to the point where you could die, or you’re living in a desperate situation. And people just flat-out can’t afford to stay out anywhere else. They need to start moving back into their homes even if it’s on a second floor or different part of the house that’s not damaged. That’s played a huge part in what’s going on.


Interviewer: Right. Just to follow up with something. So when you were talking about tweaking the forms that came over from Occupy Sandy New York, and you added mostly it sounded like hot food and service food sort of stuff, is that because you had a partnership with the U-Haul folks who had the hot food or is that for other reasons?


Alicia: I was part of a group called “You Hungry Too” in the beginning. And we were servicing hot food out in the community. And when we did the canvassing, I wanted those services to still be available. Even though I wasn’t necessarily with that group anymore, they were still in the area and still wanted to keep running. It got to be–the dead of winter, January, February, the weather got to be pretty much our worst enemy. And it got to a point where we couldn’t continue doing hot food because we just couldn’t keep it hot enough. You know, we were getting very sick and they ended up up dissipating and disappearing, which is why we opened the soup kitchen at the CCR, Center for Community Renewal.


Interviewer: Oh, so all the volunteers got sick.


Alicia: I’m sorry?


Interviewer: The volunteers got sick?


Alicia: Yeah.


Interviewer: Huh. Okay.


Alicia: [Inaudible 10:07] I’ve had upper respiratory coughing, bronchitis like pneumonia for like two and a half months. And it’s basically because I keep exposing myself to mold, mildew, the environment which is outside in our community. I just got sick again. I was doing well. I was ok for a couple of weeks but somehow I got it again.


Interviewer: I’m sorry to hear that. Is there a lot of–or is there any support for volunteers for that sort of thing?


Alicia: Nope. I said that kind of silly but there isn’t. And the worst thing is mostly all unpaid, being a volunteer. And that means there aren’t many of us that are going to be here long-term, which is the frustrating part. I mean I stood on the long-term recovery group meeting since December. The first one I went to was standing room only. You couldn’t get in there. And now you can not only get there, you can get there an hour late and still get a seat because people, just like everywhere else, the hype is gone. There’s no longer excitement and “what can we do?” It’s now just a waiting game on how we can help people, what are we doing next.


Interviewer: What kind of groups?


Alicia: We need to pace ourselves.


Interviewer: What kinds of groups are sticking around for the long-term recovery meetings?


Alicia: Well Occupy Sandy New Jersey. We’re very active in that. And then there’s like more retired people or more faith-based industries are there. That’s really about it.


Interviewer: Yeah. Yeah, we’ve heard that the interfaith and sort of houses of worship of– continued staying involved in stuff in other places.


Alicia: Yeah.


Interviewer: Yeah.


Alicia: Also the places that were already receiving a paycheck for doing this kind of work are still there. And the ones like myself who aren’t, are falling by the wayside. And people are–seem to forget that.


Interviewer: So how do you see needs changing from sort of when you first started working to now? What sort of used to be the biggest needs and what are now the biggest needs?


Alicia: The biggest needs now are building supplies. Sheet rock, you know. Things like that. That’s been really important. But still the major needs are cleaning supplies, food, making it so people can get back in their homes. Their dishes, their pots and pans, their silverware are all garbage. They’re not able to use it. So if people could give us supplies or give us gift cards, and we can go purchase the supplies. A lot of local businesses are more supportive of our kind of work and are willing to work with us. Home Depot’s been awesome. I’ve been working with them very closely. We built a sustainable garden in [Inaudible 13:25]. That’s been a big part of it too.


Interviewer: When people are rebuilding, do you think they’re building the same as before or do you think they’re building differently because of the storm?


Alicia: They’re being forced to build differently. They’re being forced to raise their homes if they have fifty percent or more damage. Which is a crucial hold up. And I think there are people who are afraid to rebuild that are not damaged that bad because they don’t know what the future could hold. There’s a lot of information about climate change about the different changes that are happening and the different things that people need to be worried about. And that’s all playing a part in this.


Interviewer: So are people talking about climate change where you are?


Alicia: We are talking about climate change. I’ve been very active with talking about climate change because we had two storms in fourteen months and one was bigger than the other, which basically leads me to believe it’s going to happen again and it’s going to keep getting worse. And I’m all about awareness.


Interviewer: What’s the general response to that?


Alicia: At first they thought I was crazy but the more statistics and facts I’m able to give them and the more things I’m able to teach them, the better off you’re to do. And that’s really where we’ve been. We’ve been able to help people be more aware of what’s going on and why it’s happening and what’s going to happen in the future.


Interviewer: Uh huh. So what’s your specific area in New Jersey that you’re working with? Or is it specific?


Alicia: I’m working from Union Beach to Seabright.


Interviewer: I’m sorry. From where? I’m just–


Alicia: Around the [Inaudible] Bay area.


Interviewer: I don’t know where that is.


Alicia: We’re actually directly across the bay from Manhattan.


Interviewer: Oh. [laughs] Okay.


Alicia: That might help. People want me to come to New York City all the time. I’m like I don’t even know what to do there. What would I be doing there?


Interviewer: So how do you–?


Alicia: And I keep trying to get there. I’m just not able to.


Interviewer: Uh huh. Yeah. So how do you think the experience from people in that area might be different from other people’s experiences?


Alicia: I think it’s the same across the board. I think that people who are handled in the disaster don’t know what to do and what they’re supposed to do. But lots of people they’re able to help themselves. I don’t want to think we’re any different than anyone else dealing with this. But I mean I’ve driven all up and down the East Coast pretty much from here to Cape May. And it all looks the same to me. It looks like devastation. All of our areas are affected really bad by the storm.  My fear is coming in the hurricane season, and it can happen again.


Interviewer: Right. Is there a lot of talk about that?


Alicia: No. People are afraid to talk about it because awareness and you’re, you know–then you’re leaving yourself open to have that succession of feelings. And people shy away from that.  Unless you’re like me and you have to deal with that.


Interviewer: Right. So why do you think that you’re still going and other sorts of volunteers aren’t still going?


Alicia: I think I have a certain calling for this. I think there’s a reason. I take it very personally because I am a Jersey shore resident. I think that I always needed to find my place where I fit in and what I wanted to do when I grew up. And helping people has always been a really strong part of what I wanted to do. And now I just found a place to do it. And so far I haven’t had anyone tell me I stink at it. [laughter] So I just keep doing it, you know? I just keep doing the best I can every day and keep plugging away at it. As resources dry up, I find other resources. I find other ways to plug in and do what I can.


Interviewer: Uh huh. So how do you support–?


Alicia: I have–


Interviewer: Oh, go ahead.


Alicia: I’m sorry?


Interviewer: Go ahead. Sorry.


Alicia: I have more contacts in the government agencies than I ever had in my entire life.


Interviewer: What sort of government agencies are you working with?


Alicia: I’m working with the Governor’s Office. I work with my local government every day, whether it’s advocating with the Building Department for homeowners and renters. They’ve also come to me for supplies, saying hey, “this person needs hammers. We have no way of getting that.” And I put it out there, and we get help. It doesn’t always make sense, and it’s probably not the easiest way to do it. But we make it work.


Interviewer: So how–?


Alicia: I don’t stop.


Interviewer: So how do these–are they partnering with you in particular or Occupy in general? Or how do these partnerships come about?


Alicia: I kind of went after them. I’m very outspoken. So I decided to go in, introduce myself and show them what I’m able–capable of doing. And sometimes they call, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it takes a few times to go in there and be like, how can I help you? Or I just help one family, and then that family tells another family what I did and how we did it, through Occupy Sandy New Jersey. And then they call us back and ask us, hey, if you can come over here, can you do it for us? And I’m like, okay.


Interviewer: Okay. And you think those partnerships are going to stay long-term?


Alicia: I hope so. [laughter] They seem to be pretty happy with what we’re doing. I know our local government is very hand’s off. Don’t help us: “you’re fine.” And I just kept on it because I knew the people in my community weren’t fine. I live in a middle to lower-class income environment already prior to the hurricane, Superstorm Sandy. So I knew that they would already be in trouble once the storm hit. We did our first huge giveaway March 15th. That’s how long it took for them to be like, “fine, you want to do it? Go ahead.” I was like, “alright!” We helped over twelve hundred families that day. So we handed out three thousand meals, Hungry Man meals, comforters, jackets, you name it. And people were very responsive to that. And the Good Will newspaper put my phone number in it. So you can just imagine what my life has been like since then. [coughs]


Interviewer: Yeah. So could you talk a little bit more about social or racial or gender inequity in sort of the work that you’re doing? Like what you’re seeing or what you’re finding.


Alicia: My work really isn’t based on any of that. If you’re a person and you have a pulse you’re in need, I help you. Really… it isn’t gender. It isn’t by any of that. I mean the worst thing that’s happening is if you didn’t have insurance or you aren’t eligible for FEMA and you’ve kind of fallen through the cracks of all the other organizations that are out there. I personally don’t ask for that. We just make sure we’re a voice of reason for people. We try to point out whether they filed for FEMA, whether they filed for the SBA loan. You automatically need to be denied for both of those to be able to be able eligible for other resources that we know are out there. But if you’re not, if you didn’t do that, and it’s past the time you can do that, I’m not going to turn away from someone and be like you’re [Inaudible 21:55] And that’s what a lot of organizations are doing. I’m going to help that person regardless.


Interviewer: Uh huh.


Alicia: Because that’s not what it’s about for me; it’s about making sure people are okay, kind of making sure they can get back to what they thought was normal prior to Sandy. But of course the new normal is a lot different than what the old normal was.


Interviewer: Can you talk a bit more about this new normal? That sounds interesting.


Alicia: The new normal is trying to hear kids playing outside and appreciating the smaller things in value. There’s a lot more to life than materialistic things. We’re trying to help the community rebuild itself and empower them to do these things, trying to make more stable environments. We’re trying to start a children’s art program here because a lot of things that have happened are the children have been forgotten and think that they aren’t affected by what happened. And they’re directly affected and directly feeling the struggle with the everyday. We had a beach cleanup, and about ten or fifteen of the kids didn’t want to go onto the beach. They said they’d clean up by the dunes because they’re afraid of the water. Being a Jersey shore town, that’s why we all live here. And we found it beautiful to just go up and be able to have our own little part of town on the beach. So we’re trying to encourage them to feel more comfortable. It’s where we live and awareness is just educating them what we can do to make it better, how we can plant things. You know, plant things up there on the dunes. [Inaudible] Dune preservation is a large one up here. Without the dunes there will be no town.


Interviewer: So do you think the efforts and the in-roads you’re making generally being successful?


Alicia: I hope so. I question myself on it every day. Every day another phone call comes through and I think I have it all planned and I know exactly what I’m going to do, and it changes…it changes like that, and I just roll with it.


Interviewer: Right.


Alicia: I used to get really upset and I used to be like, “I can’t keep doing this.” There’s a reason it happens. And I stopped questioning and wondering why. I just have to work to see what’s in front of us and keep going.


Interviewer: Do you have a data management system to help you figure out all this stuff or keep track of it?


Alicia: I went through the CAM training. I’m in the process of meeting up with the folks from Occupy Sandy New York. Apparently when it was set up, it was set up under one. So they have to grant me access to that, which is going to be a huge, huge support system because all these resources nation-wide on there. So–and not to mention I’ll be able to see what other organizations in the area are doing for people or have done to help the people I’m helping. So it will make sure we’re not crossing resources and we hope to make some steps with our efforts going forward.


Interviewer: So you’re going to get access to the volunteer database, basically?


Alicia: Yes.


Interviewer: Yeah. Have you been using anything until now to sort that stuff out?


Alicia: Occupy Sandy New Jersey helped with CIVI I have not been in much use with that because I am Amish and don’t know how to use it. We’re working on that. But really it’s just been word of mouth. It’s been a collaborative effort by everybody who’s in our group. Making strides to do a good thing. They have a PR Department that consists of three people who put out a blast weekly. They ask me what kind of things I’m doing. They send out a blast. People email me and we put them in contact with the right folks. And that’s just really has worked.


Interviewer: Uh huh. So you just keep it in your head and whatever–and just sort of do it as it comes up?


Alicia: Yeah. It’s the way I’ve always done it. Obviously, my cell phone plays a major part in everything. I use the calendar. I just got a Google-related phone. It will make our Google calendar [coughs at length] Sorry. Google calendar will work with my calendar so I don’t cross book things, which will make a big difference moving forward. The more committees you’re on, the more conference calls, and the more things you have to do.


Interviewer: Um, are you on the weekly conference calls?


Alicia: I am.


Interviewer: Okay. Alright. Let’s see.


Alicia: We talked yesterday. They all thought I was dying.


Interviewer: Because of your coughing?


Alicia: Oh yeah. They’re like, “we can’t hear you.” I’m like, “I know!”  I’m like “I have no voice and I feel like poop!”


Interviewer: Yeah. Do you take time off?


Alicia: I learned in the past month or two that I need to. Prior to that, no, I did not. I am forcing myself to take time off and do things, trying to make my life more sustainable. I have damage in my own home that I kind of put on the back burner right after the storm but now I’m starting to work on that. I’ve been just enjoying the nicer weather and how things have gotten better, moving forward.


Interviewer: Do you have a job or a way to support yourself while you’re doing all this advocacy work?


Alicia: Currently, no.


Interviewer: Oh, tricky.


Alicia: Yeah, it’s worked so far and I don’t question it. I was a very good saver for most of my adult life in case tragedy ever happened. And I feel like there’s a reason this is going on. So I don’t question it. I just kind of work with it. It’s a crazy feeling sometimes but it works.


Interviewer: Uh huh. Do you have any other insights that I haven’t asked about that you think we should know about?


Alicia: I just think making people aware of what’s happening and what’s going is the most important– I went down to Washington D.C. in February. And a reporter asked me one day, “say, if you could talk to the president and had thirty seconds to say to him, what would you say?” And all I said to him was “I’d tell him to put on his boots and come sit down in my community. And if he didn’t have a place to stay, let him stay in my moldy shoebox.” And it kind of morphed from that because people don’t think we’re living in the conditions we are and that help is so needed. And I just want them to be more aware that there’s so much that still needs to be done. And the knowhow to do that is powerful. After a point it was really easy just to get a bunch of people to come out and spend and do anything. Now more skilled laborers are needed and more direct volunteers are needed. And the volunteers have fallen by the wayside because they think the crisis is over. It’s actually a current condition. As it gets warmer, mold grows faster and it’s getting worse for the people who live here.


Interviewer: Huh. Do you have the case–we have the case in some places in New York where people are just now coming back for the first time because when it–they just–they left for the cold weather and now they’re coming back, and they’re opening their houses for the first time. Is that happening where you are?


Alicia: Yes it is, every day.


Interviewer: Yeah. And do you guys have it–?


Alicia: And then–


Interviewer: Oh, go ahead.


Alicia: Every day it’s happening and people don’t know how to deal with the initial overwhelming feelings they have because it’s like it’s too fresh for them. And they were able to go away for six months and not have to deal with that. And now it’s right in their face again as kind of a constant reminder of what happened. And now we’re almost dealing with worse scenarios and worse situations because of the mold and the spores and the things that are happening where the damage was.


Interviewer: Do you guys have any sort of support for mental health?


Alicia: We do. We actually have many organizations that have worked through Center for Community Renewal, different counselors that come in and out of there that people can schedule time with. There’s actually a great psychiatrist that’s here in our community because there were a lot of people who had mental illnesses prior to the storm and got off their medications because their medications were too expensive when they lost their jobs. So they no longer have that. We’ve been doing a lot of all of it. We try to stay ahead of it, you know.


Interviewer: Uh huh. Do you guys have a tourist season coming up? Do you guys have a big tourist industry where you are?


Alicia: We do, but our boardwalk is pretty much in dire straits. The theme park is open, but families for generations have been coming here. One thing nobody hears in the newspapers or the news is we had a rollercoaster that was on our boardwalk called the Wild Cat and it was in our Bay, and it was not returned to our boardwalk. So it’s kind of going to be interesting to see how that’s going to play out. A lot of the business owners on our boardwalk had to rebuild from Irene and now Sandy. And they didn’t rebuild. They just walked away. So the hope is that new business owners come in. So is the heightened risk of this being a continual problem. They’re aware of it. They know it, but every season they’ve been on that boardwalk for years. And this season, they’re not there. Our boardwalk now is normally open Saturdays and Sundays. And it’s only been open three days since Easter. And it’s normally open every weekend. So we’re aware of what’s going on. And that’s a big part of keeping things sustainable for the community and just keeping things like I said, old normal and new normal. Easter weekend, you’re at the boardwalk when you live here. And it wasn’t open this year. We just have things to deal with for the people that have been doing that for thirty years.


Interviewer: So one of the hubs in New York got moved because Memorial–or got evicted –because Memorial Day holiday is coming up and the higher ups in the local government wanted them to move the hub so the tourists didn’t see it, basically. Is anything like that happening where you are?


Alicia: That is not happening where we are, because actually our Memorial Day Parade is cancelled.


Interviewer: Oh.


Alicia: We did a St. Patrick’s Day Parade. That was run by the town. And the Memorial Day Parade is cancelled because of funding. And those are the kinds of things that make a big presence in our community. We’re currently–Occupy Sandy New Jersey is trying to gather owners of businesses to make a barbeque – this was part of the community clean up–get the community together and still have a community unit. It’s not a parade but it’s still going to be fun. We’re still going to do the best we can to make our presence known. And we’re not just going to disappear and go away. It’s very important to us.


Interviewer: Uh huh. So how badly was your house affected by the storm?


Alicia: My house has shifted off of its axis. Basically the entire house has shifted. The issue is [Inaudible 34:56] flood damage. And we don’t know whether it is because I had over a foot of in my crawl space. Every single window in my house is impossible to open and close. Doors in my house don’t work. More of a mess than I like it.


Interviewer: And you’re living in it?


Alicia: I also–I’m sorry? Yeah. I’ve been in it since weeks after the storm. The front door and the back door work. And the windows we didn’t realize until a couple of weeks ago when the weather got nice. But the hallway door and the bedroom door didn’t work. And I basically went, huh, that’s weird.


Interviewer: So instead of– I’m sorry. Go ahead.


Alicia: It’s easier to think of other people than it is about your own situation.


Interviewer: Yeah, I was going to ask about it. It sounds like you’ve been putting your stuff on hold to help other people instead of doing your stuff.


Alicia: Yeah. I mean I did. And I did it because I live by myself with a cat and a dog. And if the door doesn’t shut, it’s not that huge of a deal. But working families that don’t have a place to call home hits me harder. I still have a roof over my head. I’m still in an environment that’s still, at this stage of the game, healthy. I did mold remediation about two months ago. That was part of the contribution to why I was getting sick.


Interviewer: So have you applied to FEMA and the other loans?


Alicia: I did.


Interviewer: Okay. And have you heard back from them yet?


Alicia: I heard back from FEMA that I had–they had to go through my insurance company before they could do it. And I went through the SBA loan, and my credit is good enough to get a loan. But I did not get the loan. I don’t know what the heck I’m supposed to do, you know. The damage to my house–the talk is still that all the houses need to be lifted. If that’s the case, I would not be able to lift my house in the current position it’s in.


Interviewer: Because you can’t afford it?


Alicia: No, because if it’s shifted, then when they try to lift it, it’ll waffle.


Interviewer: Oh, okay. Okay.


Alicia: And then the whole thing got a little [Inaudible 37:18]


Interviewer: Have people in your community been talking about debt at all?


Alicia: Talk about debt?


Interviewer: Yeah, debt. Like because of the loans and because of rebuilding–


Alicia: They are. And they have a lot of misconceptions with a lot of the loans that are going on. There’s a lot of issues with the talk about the FEMA money and the money from the insurance companies going to mortgage companies. That’s actually what we were talking about last night on the conference call. Because everyone feels like their mortgage company is stealing their money. It’s not the case at all. What happens is they take the check because they’re the payee. And then they issue it out with installments because they are invested in keeping the property and what in the standing structure needs to be fixed. During Hurricane Katrina, all the money that went out to insurance companies [Inaudible] home owners. They took thousands of dollars in checks and just left and left the affected home and everything else. So not only did those people have a mortgage they weren’t paying; they got hundreds of thousands of dollars and just left the area. The mortgage companies are playing it a little bit smarter. And a lot of the area in, like, Keansburg–they’re covered under one large company. And they’re just trying to protect their investments, but you know. It’s a very hard subject to talk to people about, especially when they’re–like I said, they were already struggling prior to the storm. And now it’s just a hundred times worse.


Interviewer: Alright. So who do you think has been most helpful for you as someone who has had your house shifted and sort of all the mold problems and stuff like that? Is there any group that you find most helpful for your situation or are you–?


Alicia: I went…I went directly to AmeriCorps. I’ve been working hand in hand with them the entire time they were here. They directly gave us aid and assistance in the program. Any muck out or job that I sent their way. They were very hand’s on in sending lots of people through the process. They actually did the mold remediation of my house. I supplied them with the Tyvek suits and [Inaudible 39:55] for a long time, but they have since dissipated and are no longer here, which is why mold remediation is becoming a huge problem.


Interviewer: Have people been talking about other–? Go ahead. Sorry. Go ahead.


Alicia: If you’re not skilled in doing mold remediation, you can get very sick.


Interviewer: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. So have people been talking about other forms of contamination and sort of health affects besides the mold situation?


Alicia: There is a Sandy cough. We’re concerned about what that is and what that means. There is concern about upper respiratory infections and things of that nature. I have asthma and I’ve been sick pretty much on and off for six months. And I’m going to continue to be sick. It’s kind of like the new normal for me. A couple of days ago I was talking totally normal. And now I have bronchitis again. And you know, at first I got really frustrated. And then I’ve kind of come to terms with the fact that that’s going to happen. It’s going to be an ongoing battle that I’m going to deal with. And I don’t like the sound of it but it’s the truth. When the doctor saw me today, she’s like, “you know what you have. Why didn’t you just call me?” I’m like, because it gets worse if continually come in, you know? And that’s the truth about it, the very hard truth about what’s going on. And I know I’m not alone. I’m just more aware than some people because I’ve been doing this every day. So I’m more concerned about the people who, like we said, weren’t around. They were away for months and now they’re coming back. And they’re thinking that they can just bleach it. One of the easier things for us to get was bleach, and bleach doesn’t kill mold.


Interviewer: Bleach, right?


Alicia: Disinfectant.


Interviewer: Right.


Alicia: You know, it’s just like, why is bleach the easiest thing for me to get? I don’t understand but really the way it’s been. It’s kind of tough. And you know, I just–that’s why I feel like education is very important and making people aware of what’s going on and what they can do to make sure they’re doing it in a healthy way. I tell everybody there’s no stupid question. I’d rather you ask a question any day. You know, they call me. I have my cell phone on my all the time. I usually answer it. I email. I answer them within twenty-four hours as soon as I get them. And I make sure people know that. And if I’m not able to answer it, I have volunteers that have been working with me. Can you do me a favor and go through these with me when we’re driving from point A to point B. And I ask them just write on the bottom of the email given to by, you know, whatever. And it’s worked this far. So we just keep rolling with it. When I’m not able to do it though, Occupy Sandy New Jersey, an entire group of us, do it together as a group. And if I don’t know the answer to a question, I call them all the time with crazy questions because that’s what we do to get the answers to those tough questions.


Interviewer: How did you get involved–?


Alicia: You know, there’s twenty-two of us.There’s only twenty-two of us. But we’re spread from Bergen County to Cape May down. That’s–I mean we’re a small group but we’re getting stuff done. And that’s one thing that I pride myself on, that twenty-two people can make a difference for an entire state.


Interviewer: How did you get involved with Occupy Sandy?


Alicia: I met Amanda, Nate, and Dylana at a group function. And they said that they liked me and they thought that I could help. And I said “what can we do?”


Interviewer: Ah.


Alicia: You know, and we’ve been buddies ever since. I told them to come down and see what’s going on in my area. And they took me up on it. And I’ve taken them up on, you know, offers that they’ve had to go help in other areas. And you know, Nate and Dylana are more on the advocacy than I understood and they basically educated me on the things that people need to be aware of and what’s going on and what’s happening. And I just basically get the information from them and pass it out. And then I–you know, our finance working group works hard to make sure we have the supplies we need. And what it takes for us to get there is sometimes not the easiest stuff. We are a consensus-based group, which at first drove me nuts, but at the same time, I’m starting to like it because I know that it’s in the best interest of the people we’re helping as well as it’s making our funds last longer than [Inaudible 45:08] Buying brand new refrigerators for fifty families versus making five hundred families have the supplies they need, [Inaudible] and that kind of thing. It’s definitely a learning experience.


Interviewer: Yeah.


Alicia: Don’t quote me on that though. Then they’ll know


Interviewer: Those are all the specific questions I have. Do you have any questions for me?


Alicia: No. I mean was I helpful?


Interviewer: Absolutely, yeah. There aren’t too many people we’ve spoken to who were both affected by the storm and doing relief work full-time. In fact, you’re the only person we’ve spoke to. So it’s a really interesting, unique–


Alicia: I’ve been hearing that and it’s kind of like what are they doing? It’s just like–


Interviewer: Yeah.


Alicia: I would say that I’m just trying to make sure that not only am I taken care of in the best possible way; we’re taking care of the people, you know, the best we can. And it’s kind of like a double-edged sword. You just want to do what’s right, you know. And I feel for the people in my community because I can totally understand that they feel like they’ve been forgotten and they’re not being helped. And I hear the level of frustration in people I see every day. We live in a small town. But we’re a good town, so anyway.


Interviewer: Alright, well that’s it. I’ll be in touch.



End of recording


Download transcript here.

FEMA’s Keansburg page.

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