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Response to Tragedy

Targeted for Helping Refugees Find a Home in Pittsburgh, How Jewish Groups Aiding in Resettlement Are Responding

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Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, surrounded by reporters at the Jewish Family and Community Services press conference Tuesday morning in Pittsburgh. Photo: Mary Niederberger/PublicSource

The participation of the Dor Hadash congregation in a national celebration to welcome refugees may have drawn hateful attention from the gunman who killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill on Saturday.

Dor Hadash, one of three congregations that shares the synagogue, was among 300 congregations in the United States and Canada to participate on Oct. 19 and 20 in the National Refugee Shabbat sponsored by HIAS, a national Jewish resettlement agency.

In anti-Semitic, anti-refugee writings on a social media platform favored by extremists, gunman Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin, singled out HIAS and posted a link to its website with information on participants in the Shabbat.

“To think that that attack happened because of that, because they were welcoming refugees…” Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of HIAS, said at a Tuesday morning press conference at Jewish Family and Community Services [JFCS] in Squirrel Hill.

Read the rest of the story from PublicSource here.

Response to Tragedy

VIDEO: A W.Va. Community Responds to Religious Violence of Past and Present

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Photo: Bobby Lee Messer

One Appalachian community is responding to violence of the past and present targeted at religious groups.

At their annual reading of the names ceremony, the B’nai Sholom Synagogue in Huntington, West Virginia, brought together community members in a ceremony to remember victims of the Holocaust.

Just a few blocks away, community activists gathered to also honor the victims of the Easter suicide bombings in Sri Lanka.

The remembrances came the same day as the latest attack on the Jewish community in America– a shooting at a California synagogue.

Bobby Lee messer is homegrown West Virginia videographer and producer. He grew up in Huntington, as did his father and his father before him and so on. After living in various towns and cities long far west of the Ohio River for more than 20 years, Messer has returned to his hometown and is pleased as punch to be covering the people and landscape of his home state.

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Response to Tragedy

Lingering Long After a Storm, Mold and Mental Health Issues

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Editor’s note: This story is part of a series examining the social and health injustices resulting from increasingly intense storms. It’s the result of a collaboration between Scalawag and Environmental Health News, a nonprofit publication dedicated to covering environmental health topics including climate change. 

This piece was originally published in Scalawag, which amplifies the voices of activists, artists, and writers reckoning with the South. You can read the original here.

Omisade Burney-Scott has white hair in skinny twists that wash forward on her head like a foaming wave, neat purple lipstick and eyeshadow. On a gloomy day in the fall, she wore a black shirt with white lettering on it: “Just a kid from New Bern.”

Burney-Scott, a community activist, had driven from her home in Durham, North Carolina, the couple of hours to her hometown of New Bern, to spend the weekend talking to survivors of Hurricane Florence. A lot of these survivors were also relatives, close or distant.

“It takes two seconds to find your cousins in New Bern,” she said, laughing.

Her 71-year-old sister, Mary Ann Dove, was among the people who rode out the catastrophic flooding in September. She knew Mary Ann wasn’t planning to evacuate (because she had limited resources, and was under the impression that it was not going to be a catastrophic storm). But Burney-Scott got worried as news reports came in about the size of the storm surge from Florence, which made landfall as a Category 1 storm, then moved painfully slowly across the Southeast, dumping feet of rain.

“I called her and I said, ‘I need you to look outside and tell me what you see,'” she said. Mary Ann had fallen asleep on the couch watching the storm, and when she got up and went to the window, she cried out “Oh, my god.” It looked “like a swimming pool” in her front yard.

Mary Ann had fallen asleep on the couch watching the storm, and when she got up and went to the window, she cried out “Oh, my god.” It looked “like a swimming pool” in her front yard.

Burney-Scott called Craven County—where New Bern is located—emergency services, and hours later her sister, who doesn’t know how to swim, was rescued by boat—along with her granddaughter and 6-year-old great-grandson.

“When I came a week after the storm,” Burney-Scott said, “that’s the first time I saw her break down and cry.” Mary Ann was and is terrified of drowning.

For more than six weeks, Mary Ann was temporarily housed by a church member in New Bern (she declined an interview, but knew that her sister was speaking to me).

Meanwhile, everyone in New Bern watched as the national media descended on their town, and then left again as the floodwaters receded.

IMG_3483.JPG The waterfront near Trent Court Housing Development in New Bern. During Hurricane Florence, water came up four or five feet inside of many apartments.

The problems with displacement, slow FEMA payments, and lack of rental homes are well-documented, but residents like Burney-Scott’s sister are left with longer-term problems. Staying healthy in the months after a flood presents a conundrum: People who stay at home may be living among rotting walls, exposed insulation, and black mold, as Mary Ann would if she stayed at home.

But people who move find their lives destabilized, and pay the cost of being further from work and family. And mental health experts say that anyone might experience a hurricane as a traumatic event; healing in the midst of ongoing stress is a tall order. Studies have found heightened prevalence of PTSD, anxiety, and depression in survivors of flooding and hurricanes, and mental health symptoms are even morelikely for people displaced to shelters.

“Trauma is a very personal experience,” said Dr. Emanuela Taioli, MD, PhD, Director of the Institute for Translational Epidemiology at Mt. Sinai. She’s worked on studies of Hurricane Sandy and Harvey survivors, and she says the trauma associated with witnessing a flood, fearing for your or your family’s life, or being displaced from your home can have long-term effects.

Being in a cramped shared space without support for a week or two compounds that, Taioli said. “A week is a lot of time to be in a situation where you share a bathroom with people you don’t know.”

Burney-Scott, whose nickname in New Bern is Billie, is seeing these effects with her own eyes: She takes her glasses off when she starts to cry. Her sister is the eldest sibling and matriarch of the family, and sleeping on someone’s couch was an alarming development. She can’t even talk about the stress.

“I’m scared this is the thing that’s going to take her out,” Burney-Scott said. She’s worried about her sister’s stress, anxiety, and tendency to be a caretaker even when she’s the one who needs taking care of.

She’s also worried about the cough her sister has had since the storm—like a lot of people in New Bern, she’s been spending time in buildings that were water-logged, and are now moldy. “She’s so tired. She’s used to bouncing back from really hard situations. She has built up what I would call a high level of toxic resiliency.”

The trouble with “toxic resiliency” 

Burney-Scott was in New Bern for an event co-organized with New Bern native Dr. Ed Bell and Dawn Baldwin Gibson, local community organizers who have been concerned about the lasting effects of Hurricane Florence on New Bern’s Black community.

At Peletah Ministries, a small storefront church where Gibson is the co-founder and executive pastor, burgundy church chairs filled up with parents and children for an afternoon session on trauma, led by a psychologist.

After the session, there was a pop-up clinic where attendees could get resources for mental health and legal services, an idea hatched by Burney-Scott after organizers in Florida and Louisiana told her these resources should take top priority.

Dr. Brendan Hargett took the church podium in his slate gray suit, a salt and pepper beard and glasses. He said the first obstacle to treating trauma is recognizing it’s there.

“Sometimes our children are exposed to things that we as parents want to brush under the rug,” he said, to nods and murmurs from the audience.

Auditorium chairs lined up outside an elementary school in New Bern after Hurricane Florence.

“September was a rough month,” he said. Yes indeed, yes it was, the crowd responded. He explained that trauma is a normal response to an abnormal event: When you experience a stressful event, the body releases stress hormones, which cause you to run, freeze, or fight. “All of these hormones are released into your body which signals you to do something in order to protect yourself.”

The question is, what happens when that stressful event—or signs of it—come back every day?

During hurricanes and floods, research shows that children and adults alike may be traumatized, with effects including PTSD, insomnia, and anxiety.

One study of low-income parents who survived Hurricane Katrina showed half of them experienced PTSD, and the prevalence of severe mental health issues in the group doubled in the year following the storm.

In an extended study ofHurricane Sandy, Dr. Taioli and other researchers found that few mental health resources were available to hurricane survivors, even at government shelters.

“It was more like a camp than a shelter. And there was no social support, none of the shelters had social workers, psychologists, no one who could help these people with the situation they were in,” she said.

Her research cohort recommended to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the federal government start providing mental health and social work resources in shelters, but that still doesn’t address the problem of multiple, ongoing trauma, an issue that has yet to be studied for hurricane survivors.

“People with two [traumatic] events do much worse than people with only one event. It’s understandable, but nobody is thinking about what to do about it,” Dr. Taioli said.

Dr. Hargett explained that there are many types of responses to trauma: Feeling scared, helpless, anxious, depressed, even guilty—many survivors are plagued with guilt over people who fared worse in a disaster. And there’s also anger.

“Anger—how many of y’all get angry?” he said, the crowd laughing softly. “There are people that are still mad with God.”

Trauma and PTSD can be compounded by a long term stigma in many Black communities about accessing mental health services, and by an acute lack of Black therapists and psychiatrists. “Not going to professionals/seeking professional help is linked to historical experiences in the African-American community,” Dr. Hargett said.

Pastor Anthony Gibson, Dawn’s husband and the senior pastor at Peletah, piped up to say his parishioners often think they don’t need therapeutic help because they have Jesus. “I say to them, ‘well, I can have Jesus and a therapist.'”

A woman in a hot pink shirt named Latonia Barnes attended the event with her family, concerned about her own children, ages two and five. She said they, too, had to be rescued by boat after their house took three feet of water.

They’ve moved to stay with family, but she doesn’t want to go back to a flood area—her 5-year-old daughter is now afraid of water.

Barnes is struggling with how to stay strong for her daughter without setting the example that her children need to always suck it up and hide their emotions.

“I’m still having dreams of being in the dirty water, and just thinking about it. It’s gotten to the point now where I can’t sleep without thinking about it,” she said.

Toward the end of the event, Burney-Scott spoke up from the back.

“As people of color, as Black folk we talk a lot about our resiliency, about our ability to bounce back from disasters, whether that’s a natural disaster like Florence, or a human disaster like white supremacy and racism. But what if the traumatic event didn’t have to happen?” she said. She argued, and Dr. Hargett nodded agreement, that this is a sort of “toxic resiliency”—not actually bouncing back, but adapting to the toxicity of stress and repeated trauma in the body in ways that are actually damaging.

“It’s become this weird compliment-not-compliment about how strong we are as a people. Folks become numb to our pain, because we always experience pain, and we bounce back,” Burney-Scott said. “Someone can be standing in front of me and I’m bleeding out and they say it’s okay, you’ll be resilient, you’ll bounce back. But people are dead because trauma killed them.”

“As people of color, as Black folk we talk a lot about our resiliency, about our ability to bounce back from disasters…Folks become numb to our pain, because we always experience pain, and we bounce back.”

Treating trauma, but not mold 

Dawn Baldwin Gibson started a school here, at Peletah Ministries, a couple of years ago, and says many of her students and their parents were already survivors of Hurricane Irene (another disaster that led to the establishment of Peletah, when Gibson and her husband started serving meals to people in need).

Peletah Academic Center for Excellence is a private K-8 school that teaches with a trauma-informed curriculum. As such, she feels the school was ready for an event like Florence—at least, as ready as you can be. Gibson is passionate and clear, her big smile belying a pained look in her eyes.

“We have a lot of parents who are coming to us now saying, I need my child there, because they were rescued out of the water and they’re having nightmares and when it starts to rain you can see them tensing up,” Gibson said. Her students can be triggered into a trauma reaction by rain itself, and some are living long-term with family or friends. “Every single child has been impacted.”

“We have a lot of parents who are coming to us now saying, I need my child there, because they were rescued out of the water and they’re having nightmares and when it starts to rain you can see them tensing up.”

Their first week back to school after Florence, the students did art therapy. In October they had a visit from people who run an aquarium, talking about the importance of environmental stewardship.

Treatment of trauma at the school is ongoing, but Gibson is equally worried about the mold; she gets calls from elderly people as well as parents of young children who are still living in homes that were flooded, in need of renovation but with nowhere to go.

“That to me is going to be the public health issue number one,” she said. Many people have allergic reactions to mold, and the CDC warns that people with asthma or other respiratory conditions and people with weakened immune systems should stay clear of homes with mold in them, because they can risk infection.

Children were found to be particularly vulnerable to upper and lower respiratory illness following Hurricane Katrina, and the long-term effects of mold exposure from storms remain unclear.

The offices of the New Bern Housing Authority were among the buildings destroyed by Hurricane Florence.

The supervisor of environment health for the Craven County Health Department, Keith Jernigan, said the county saw about a 10-fold increase in complaints about mold in the weeks following Hurricane Florence; they had dozens of complaints in a short period of time when normally they would have about two a month. While the department isn’t able to help with remediation, it sends out information packets warning about the allergenic and toxic risks of mold exposure, and giving suggestions for safe clean-up. After the event at Peletah, Gibson walked out front.

“I tell the kids to take a walk, take breaks,” she said. “I guess that’s what I really need right now.”

As she set off to stroll around the block, it started to gently rain again. It almost felt as if New Bern would never dry out. And soon enough, it will be hurricane season again.


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Response to Tragedy

Poor Southerners are Joining the Globe’s Climate Migrants

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Editor’s note: This story is part of a series examining the social and health injustices resulting from increasingly intense storms. It’s the result of a collaboration between Scalawag and Environmental Health News, a nonprofit publication dedicated to covering environmental health topics including climate change. 

This piece was originally published in Scalawag, which amplifies the voices of activists, artists, and writers reckoning with the South. You can read the original here.

Tyechia Buck and her 12-year-old son camped out on the second floor of her townhouse during last September’s Hurricane Florence—at least at first. The storm surge Wednesday night was so big it flowed over the banks of the Neuse River before the rain even started here. The town slowly disappeared underwater, starting at the Trent Court housing projects, a small collection of brown brick townhouses.

By 11 o’clock Thursday morning she realized she’d made a mistake not evacuating: waves were lapping up against the building next to hers.

“I went out my back door and didn’t look back,” she said.

Since then she and her son have been staying wherever: with family, in and out of shelters, in a hotel, and finally back at the apartment in Trent Court. When she came back home, she said, “I turned my key, opened my door, and busted out crying.” Her refrigerator was on its side, floating. Everything on the first floor of her two-story public housing unit was destroyed by more than four feet of floodwater.

Buck said she had never seen anything like it. Trent Court, where she was born and raised, is a squat collection of 1940’s era brick buildings near where the Neuse River begins to widen into a sound and open up toward the Atlantic Ocean. The silty water overwhelmed Trent Court, and many other parts of New Bern and eastern North Carolina.

Now, the local housing authority has decided that nearly half of the residents of this 80-year-old public housing complex cannot return. Demolition was already in the works at Trent Court, and it’s been fast-tracked by the storm. Buck is a “squatter” in her own home, permanently evicted but still living there with no heat or hot water.

Demolition, redevelopment, and an effort to move residents into other affordable housing nearby could take years, by which point, there’s no knowing where people will be. And these days, this story of displacement from public housing repeats itself each time hurricane season rolls around: The most notorious case was New Orleans after Katrina, but since then, public housing residents have been pushed out by Ike, Dolly, Harvey, Irma, Matthew, Florence, and Michael—just to name a few.

Rubble outside of apartments at Trent Court Housing Development, a public housing project near the waterfront in eastern North Carolina. Half the units at Trent Court were flooded during Hurricane Florence.

Public housing residents, along with other poor, disabled, elderly, and vulnerable people, are becoming a first wave of climate migrants in the U.S.—people selectively displaced by increasingly frequent storms and floods, moved because they can’t afford to stay. Their forced removal also marks the sputtering end of a long effort to close down the project of government-subsidized housing in this country, leaving affordable housing to the so-called free market.

“From where I sit, this is our Katrina. This is our 9th Ward,” said Omisade Burney-Scott, a longtime Durham-based community activist and seventh-generation New Bernian. She’s among a group of people in New Bern seeking support for displaced people in the city’s historically-Black neighborhoods and public housing units.

Burney-Scott is worried not just about individual displacement, but the displacement of a culture—she’s worried Black residents with deep history in New Bern will be replaced by wealthier white people as a result of Florence. New Bern’s dense downtown, just across the road from the Trent Court development, is charming and quaint: Victorian-style brick buildings, shops with bells on the door, high property values. The city itself is 308 years old, and after the Civil War it was part of the district that elected the largest number of Black representatives to Congress during Reconstruction. Its Black community has been strong since before the end of slavery, as it was an early refuge for free Black people.

And yet, New Bern is also home to intergenerational inequities in income and wealth, divides that are exacerbated by disaster. Trent Court, the 218-unit public housing development, is mostly Black even as the city’s population is 53 percent white. Burney-Scott, who’s been meeting with public officials and residents since Florence, is frustrated that, in her view, after the flood Trent Court was effectively abandoned by the local housing authority.

“They put Trent Court in this weird palliative care kind of situation, just waiting for it to die,” she said. “And they’re not providing any support for it while it’s dying.”

A disaster without a plan

Martin Blaney, director of the New Bern Housing Authority, waited out the storm on the fourth floor of one of the housing authority buildings, New Bern Towers, a home for the elderly just down the block from Trent Court. He didn’t want to go back to his home across town for fear of getting stuck there, unable to respond to calls. And he said once the water came into Trent Court, the calls were constant.We have a disaster plan, but our plan did not expect the type of devastation that we had,” he said, sitting in the sun outside New Bern Towers for an interview. “I guess when they say plan for the worst, you never know.”

We have a disaster plan, but our plan did not expect the type of devastation that we had,” he said, sitting in the sun outside New Bern Towers for an interview. “I guess when they say plan for the worst, you never know.”

Inside of Tyechia Buck’s apartment at Trent Court Housing Development, everything was gutted after the flooding of Hurricane Florence. She now lives there without electricity.

At the federal level, the need to plan for destruction from catastrophic floods ought to be clear: A 2017 report found that 9 percent of public housing units, and 8 percent of privately owned federally subsidized housing units in the U.S., are in a floodplain—close to a half a million units and some million people. Many residents of government-subsidized housing have already become climate migrants, in New Orleans, Miami, Houston, and Puerto Rico.

Even beyond public housing, the trickle of climate-related migration is already upon us: The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that 1.68 million Americans were internally displaced by disasters in 2017. Another study, from the University of Georgia, predicts sea level rise alone could displace as many as 13 million Americans by the end of the century. And globally, the World Bank has predicted at least 143 million people will migrate internally in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia by 2050 as a result of water shortages, rising sea levels, and decreased crop yields tied to global climate change.

Blaney is genial and easy-going, unafraid to answer questions about Trent Court—he says he worked around the clock to locate and find lodging for everyone who was displaced from Trent Court—108 units were flooded, with more than 200 people living in them. A few people simply dropped off their keys, but everyone else they eventually tracked down and helped move from shelters to hotels or motels, and everyone displaced was able to apply for temporary housing assistance and property loss reimbursements from FEMA. FEMA treats public housing residents as it would other renters, asking for proof of displacement. But on the HUD side, Blaney says there is no special budget, and no plan, for helping out people suddenly and permanently displaced by flooding or storms.

“We just simply did not expect an event where we would have to tear down the buildings,” Blaney said. It came as a shock.”

Martin Blaney, the head of the New Bern Housing Authority, at a table behind the senior housing complex where he waited out Hurricane Florence. Photo:

He does say tearing down Trent Court was inevitable eventually because the buildings had become too expensive to maintain. The New Bern Housing Authority relies on HUD funding.

“For years now their support has dwindled, and you know, the older your development, the more it costs to maintain it,” he said. With HUD cutting funds for both general operating and capital improvements, keeping up with Trent Court was impossible.

Anticipating this, the New Bern Housing Authority got a HUD grant a few years ago to create a redevelopment plan for Trent Court; that plan, which was developed in collaboration with housing residents and New Bern’s political leaders, called for Trent Court to be demolished, and replaced with new affordable housing units in other parts of New Bern, a process the housing authority began over the summer. Following a national trend, those housing units would be part of mixed-income developments with significant private funding and private management.

But while HUD funded the planning grant, the federal agency had not yet provided additional funding for demolition and redevelopment. Getting rid of 12 buildings at Trent court will cost $50,000-60,000 per building.

Now, as a result of Hurricane Florence, the housing authority will demolish the buildings at Trent Court anyway, without a timely replacement plan—demolition is expected in 2019, while new housing may not be built for many years. Blaney is working with the city to acquire a piece of land for one of the new mixed-income developments, but 2019 will be spent trying to secure tax credits from the state just to start the work.

It’s gonna be too long for some folks, I’m sure,” Blaney said. “It’s been too long for a lot of them.“

“Public housing is a dying business”

HUD’s vision for decades now has been to shutter aging public housing developments like Trent Court, and build new, mixed-income housing in their place. Of 1.4 million public housing units built in the 20th century, only around 1 million remain.

“Public housing is a dying business,” Blaney said, shaking his head.

A HUD program called Hope VI demolished nearly 100,000 units of public housing from 1993-2010, replacing just 57 percent of them in new developments. The demolition and redevelopment process has often been met with resistance from residents; HUD has justified the demolitions on the basis that public housing as it was envisioned in the 20th century has become dangerous and unsustainable, and HUD leaders believe public-private partnerships and mixed-income developments are the future of public housing. Public housing residents around the country have argued against displacement, noting that private solutions may prey on poor people for a profit, and mixed-income replacements have typically only had a fraction of the affordable housing the original public housing projects entailed.

Sabrina Bengel, the New Bern alderwoman whose district includes Trent Court, sees a problem with affordable housing—and housing in general—in New Bern. But she doesn’t think it’s a problem for the government to solve.

“I think I would like to see our housing authority eventually go away…the red tape is terrible, you can’t do this, you can’t do that,” she said. “I think when it’s privately done you have more flexibility and you can make things happen. And I guess I’m just a capitalist. I’m a fiscal conservative.” Broadly speaking, Democrats have supported sustaining and reforming HUD, while many Republicans see HUD as an aspect of the “administrative state” they seek to dismantle.

Neither the city of New Bern nor the local housing authority has stepped in with housing solutions or financial support for the more than 200 people who have become homeless as a result of Trent Court being permanently evacuated, although Blaney has been working to fast track Section 8 vouchers, which subsidize rentals in the private market for residents who want them; those went through in December, just after many people’s FEMA payments ended. People have stayed in shelters, crashed on floors, and rented hotel rooms with their FEMA checks. But those payments only last for months, while opening up new low-income housing will take years.

Neither the city of New Bern nor the local housing authority has stepped in with housing solutions or financial support for the more than 200 people who have become homeless as a result of Trent Court being permanently evacuated.

And even a voucher doesn’t guarantee housing: Disaster-related displacement is exacerbated by a shortage of affordable rental housing. In New Bern, even displaced people who can afford rent in a new home don’t have many options because there’s little available on the market. A 2017 study of Craven County, where New Bern is located, found 45 percent of renters were cost-burdened already, meaning they pay more than 30 percent of the family budget toward rent. Landlords in North Carolina are also not required to take Section 8 vouchers at all, and many openly discriminate.

The housing shortage isn’t going away anytime soon: As Blaney explained, when private investors spend big money on housing, they often build luxury units to house aging baby boomers or young professionals. Across the country, younger folks with families, people working service-industry jobs at low wages, even public-sector workers increasingly live in places where they can’t afford the rent. When it’s left to the developers, it can be argued that a slight housing shortage works to their advantage, forcing everyone to pay more than they can afford.

But in the long run, even though he’s a career HUD guy, Blaney agrees with Bengel about the red tape of government housing. “Maybe the private sector is the way to go.”

A squatter in her own home

“I’ve been displaced before,” said Cheryl Reed, head of the Trent Court Resident Council, “but I’ve never seen it like this.”

Reed is raspy-voiced and beautiful, her gray and black hair curling around her dark face, deep brown eyes shining. Her shuffling gait reveals a bit about her age, 67, and when we met to tour Trent Court, she wore a dusty t-shirt for the Trent Court resident council. A few weeks after the storm, she was coordinating an event distributing supplies to Trent Court residents. She’s a clearly well-liked leader, hollering out to everyone by name as they rolled up to St. John’s Missionary Baptist Church to pick up cleaning supplies and staples: bottled water, Pedialyte, diapers, bleach to scrub down walls, all donated by a group in the Outer Banks.

She grew up in New Bern, she said with a relaxed smile, and this is her home—she knows everyone around. After the death of both her husband and her daughter, it’s been just her and a tiny terrier named Winston Churchill in her Trent Court townhouse. “We’re a couple of old farts together,” she said, giggling.

One of the worst parts of the storm for her was letting Winston Churchill go to the humane society and get fostered out—she had to in order to check in to a shelter. She called every day, and now she’s resettled in senior housing for the time being, with the dog.

Cheryl Reed outside of her empty townhouse at Trent Court.

She and Buck together took me to see Reed’s old apartment, which is set to be torn down. The walls were warped from water, and little was left on the first floor. But there was still a rusty metal trinket hanging on the front door that says “Welcome,” surrounded with political stickers: Obama 2012, Barbara Lee for Mayor. Buck wanted Reed to take the welcome sign with her, but Reed wanted to leave some sign of herself there. “I was here. I was here. And I was welcoming of anyone that came to my door.”

“She was,” Buck affirmed from across the room.

The rest of Trent Court was a mess, but nothing like the mess that it was a few weeks after the storm. The housing authority had already washed down the apartments, removed the slime and the first layer of mold, with the help of formerly incarcerated workers in a re-entry program. The floating refrigerators and rusted out stoves were gone forever. Throughout the day, cars pulled up and residents jumped out with bags full of bleach, left with trash bags full of what remained of their belongings. Someone had been hired to mow the lawns, so Trent Court’s yards looked trim and neat, almost lived-in.

Buck applied for FEMA assistance, and got a check for $4,471 in October: $1,800 of that was for rental assistance for two months, and the rest was for personal property replacement. She was expecting to spend it down, and then move back to Trent Court.

But two months after the hurricane, Buck’s first round of FEMA payments ran out. That same week, she got the news that her building at Trent Court is on the list for demolition. She thought she’d be able to stay until HUD built a new alternative for Trent Court residents. Now, she’s not even supposed to be crashing at her own apartment, but she’s considered a “squatter.” The units now have no heat, no appliances, and no hot water; the floors and parts of the walls are gutted out. She and her son sleep upstairs in their old beds, which survived. She says his grades are suffering.

Buck is six months pregnant, and when I asked how she was doing with all of it, she said, “How would you be doing? I’m basically homeless. I’m not trying to be funny. I’m just… how would anyone be doing?”

In other words, there are no words.

Blaney and HUD have secured Section 8 vouchers for all the families displaced permanently by the hurricane. But given that there’s nothing to rent in New Bern, that’s not much help to Buck.

“I’m not interested in a voucher. I was born and raised in New Bern…Everybody that I know that is accepting a voucher, they’re going to like, Raleigh. If we all go to Raleigh…” She trails off. “This has always been home.”


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