ALBANY, NY -- Following New York's April flooding, John Watkins faced grim prospects. Watkins -- a resident of Kingston's Boice's Mobile Home Estates -- lost his mobile home to the flood. He was homeless, without funds and in ill health.
But thanks to the joint disaster recovery efforts of federal, state, local governments and volunteer groups, Watkins now is living in a good decent affordable home and faces brighter prospects.
Shortly after President Bush declared a major disaster, at the request of Governor George E. Pataki, for New York, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and State Emergency Management Office (SEMO) set up a housing task force to address short-and long-term disaster related housing needs.
The housing task force was comprised of FEMA, SEMO, the State of New York Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR), the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) and contacts with regional volunteer agencies, such as the Rural Ulster Preservation Company (RUPCO), a non profit organization partially funded by DHCR.
The Housing Task Force would meet daily to review the progress on housing problems both large and small throughout the disaster declared counties. Issues ranged from disposition of materials and residents in destroyed mobile home parks to individuals denied access to their home because of a road or bridge washout.
"This task force allowed us to engage other state and federal agencies involved in housing issues and address such needs in a more timely manner," said Federal Coordinating Officer Marianne Jackson of FEMA.
According to Joe Fryer, DHCR, this was the first time all these agencies were co-located together as one joint effort to resolve emergency housing needs. "The formation of this housing task force accelerated the process of finding permanent housing solutions for those left homeless by the April flooding."
Watkins is a task force success story. Watkins is a retired IBM employee, widower, WWII and Korean Conflict veteran, and life long resident of Kingston in Ulster County. The first after flood imperative was to find Watkins temporary housing.
Watkins, with the help of RUPCO, FEMA, SEMO and DHCR was guided through the disaster registration process with FEMA.
On June 17th, Watkins moved into Chambers Court, a new senior citizen complex located near his former mobile home. The one-bedroom ground floor spacious apartment is handicapped accessible with a Medic alert system to activate in the case of emergency.
"I am so thankful to everyone who has helped me," said Watkins. "I never dreamed that my new home would be so nice and still in Kingston, where I have lived all my life. I am truly blessed."
FEMA and the State of New York made Watkins eligible for grants to help him with temporary housing and restoration of lost personal possessions. DHCR enabled Watkins to qualify for U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Section 8 housing help. RUPCO was there at the start for Watkins and continues to monitor his progress with disaster recovery.
Watkins' story is just one of many stories of disaster recovery enabled through the Housing Task Force, but it illustrates that crafting recovery for individuals is much like putting together a patchwork quilt.
There are many groups -- federal agencies, state agencies, local agencies, volunteer groups, private sector contributions -- that provide patches to put together an individual's disaster recovery patchwork quilt.
And just like getting everyone together for a quilting bee to speed creation of such a quilt so getting the Housing Task Force together sped recovery for those with housing issues as a result of the April floods.
"We feel the housing task force was an added value in this disaster response," said State Coordinating Officer James W. Tuffey, Director of SEMO. "This ...