NEW YORK—With the clock ticking and pressure mounting to find a solution, still-homeless Hurricane Sandy evacuees were saved from uncertain fates by an 11th-hour anonymous donor Thursday night. Some 300 evacuees were up against an Oct. 4 deadline to leave their city-sponsored hotel rooms, and many faced the prospect of living in a homeless shelter.
The donor, administered through an unnamed organization, volunteered to foot the bill for up to $1 million in expenses for evacuees to remain in hotels until they have secured housing. For most, they won’t need more than two to six more weeks, according to New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS), which facilitated the donation. The donor could be an individual or the organization that came forward with the money, but NYDIS said they wished to remain anonymous.
NYDIS serves as a gatekeeper for funds from the faith-based community and provides disaster readiness, response, and recovery services to New York City.
“One of our donors told us they’d be willing to fund up to $1 million for eligible households,” said Peter Gudaitis, chief response officer with NYDIS on Friday.
Eligibility could be based on having a housing voucher through the federal Temporary Disaster Assistance Program, but Gudaitis said they are trying not to overly limit what makes someone eligible. He said that they will rely on the “creativity” of NYDIS disaster case workers going forward.
For about half of the households still in hotels, it’s the first time they will have a case worker, though most have had some type of social service assistance.
On Friday afternoon, the remaining number of households still living in hotel rooms was about 140, according to NYDIS. Each household consists of between 1 and 10 people, and could occupy more than one room. According to New York City’s law department, the average cost per hotel room is $265 per night.
The Legal Aid Society, which has been assisting the evacuees since at least April, discussed the situation of the approaching deadline with NYDIS earlier this week.
Joshua Goldfein, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society, said they were working to find a solution when NYDIS stepped forward.
“They approached us because they saw there were people who had an exit plan who just needed a little more time,” said Goldfein. “We have a large number of people who have some kind of plan.”
The city-sponsored hotel program, which had cost about $73 million over 10 months, officially ended on Oct. 4. Legal Aid said the city will still provide caseworker services for one month.
The city has been recommending that those with no place to live “transition” to a homeless shelter, according to a Dept. of Homeless Services spokesperson. Most of the evacuees are within days or weeks of securing a permanent home, though.
“These people are getting dragged around by the nose,” said NYDIS’ Gudaitis. “It’s traumatic and abusive to pass the buck as a provider.” He added that he was “dumbfounded” as to how a service provider could be so irresponsible to those in need.
Both NYDIS and Legal Aid have spent the last two days trying to connect with evacuees. But Gudaitis said many of them had already left their hotels before hearing about the donor.
Spread across all five boroughs, those facing the deadline were the last group out of the some 3,000 Sandy victims that went through the city-sponsored hotel program.
For the evacuees, the 11th-hour rescue came as a huge relief.
On Thursday night, a group of four of them sat together in the lobby of the Hilton Hotel at 26th St. and 7th Ave. in Manhattan discussing their sudden turn of fate after so many months of trials and tribulations. They also mused over the identify of the donor.
“I wonder if it was [Mayor] Bloomberg,” said Rachal Azani, who has been staying at a Holiday Inn in Brooklyn. “I’m extremely relieved. I just started a new job [and] this … saved me.”
Joan Sweet has been living at the Hilton for two months after eight months at a YMCA.
“There are good people in the world, and I feel very grateful,” said Sweet.