“Where Will All These People Go?”

11/01/2012 1:40 PM |

Rockaway Beach, Queens
  • Rockaway Beach, Queens

“They were all facing the same direction. They were all on their cots, all of them were old, all of them were alone. Where are they going to go? They don’t have homes waiting for them. They don’t have family coming to get them. Where will all these people go?”

These questions were posed to me by David Shaw, an artist and Brooklyn resident, who went to volunteer Wednesday night at the Park Slope Armory, which has been transformed from a YMCA into a make-shift evacuation/refugee center. Yes. A refugee center. Refugees. This is what we are dealing with post-Sandy, and it is important to use the proper words in a time like this. The New York Times is publishing pieces about “glamping”—or “glamourous camping” for those of you who have never heard this incredibly insensitive and idiotic portmanteau before—which seek to shed light on the more frivolous and fun side of being without power. But the “glampers” profiled by the Times are not refugees. They are not in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. They are incredibly wealthy families who live in TriBeCa and have been without power for a few days. Their power will come back. Their homes will be waiting for them. There is nothing inherently wrong with making light of what is certainly a difficult situation, but, when you juxtapose “glamping” with what is going on in much of New Jersey, on Long Island, on Staten Island, and in parts of Queens and Brooklyn, the cognitive dissonance is staggering.

This is a difficult time in New York City, and it is a time when the disparities of haves and have-nots has never been more apparent. However, the line isn’t as clear as the starkness of the nighttime Manhattan skyline would make you believe, with all of downtown in the dark. Obviously it has been a huge struggle for those without power, and, no, not everyone downtown is wealthy or “glamping” (I will never not hate that word.) But this is nothing compared to the thousands of New Yorkers who have lost everything. Whose houses have been destroyed. Whose loved ones have died. Whose lives were washed away in a single night.

4 Comment

  • The Park Slope Armory, near full to capacity with evacuees from Belle Harbor and other parts of the Rockaways, has more than enough volunteers for most shifts during the day. Thank you all who come out to help. They will need people for shifts around 4pm and after 10pm as volunteers leave to attend their own families and get some rest. I believe they also need donations (clothes, blankets) for those who have absolutely nothing but what’s on their back. I wanted to post a picture, but will not, out of respect for the hundreds of people in shock on cots all pointing in the same direction looking at nothing, with no where to go and no family to take care of them…

  • As difficult as many of these people’s lives are, they are not technically homeless. Their domestic situations are sad, yes, many of them suffer grave indignities of aging: dementia, incontinence, neglect, but they are from nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and will return there when those facilities are restored to full function.
    The volunteers I witnessed during my shift were amazing in their generosity and unflinching compassion. But they are not helping refugees, just reaching out to care for old people who cannot care for themselves during this incredibly difficult time. Also, photographs are not allowed in the space for several reasons, one of which is the political fear that journalists will make hay with the inevitable humanity of a confusing situation.

  • The volunteers at the Armory are some of the most compassionate and beautiful people I have come across since this tragedy occured. Photographs are not allowed in the Armory for reasons dating back to its inception and moreover for reasons like my comment above, out of respect.
    That said, they ARE homeless now.
    refugee: A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
    Look it up. If you are taking issue with the word “country” good luck to you.
    They have with them what they were evacuated with and nothing more. They are all on cots, facing in the same direction, being helped by strangers, like me, like you, like the many people waiting in the wings. Thank you for helping…

  • This is written thoughtfully. We lost our home on 129th. I am not sure where my stepfather, who is disabled and my little sister, who is in college, will live. With limited financial resources, this is going to be a challenge faced by so many wonderful people. I am grateful that you are bringing this issue to the table now. It’s going to be an ongoing conversation we have to have about our recovery. I am so grateful for the NYFD, for the generosity of strangers, for the courage and commitment of so many to volunteer. I am so profoundly grateful they survived the storm. This is all so new. It’s a new world for us. To be gracious- perhaps the folks looking to pro-rate their memberships will use the money they save to help a family member or friend– or maybe even a stranger. I am counting on everyone to dig in and find their best selves at this time.