Homeless Sandy victim: 'My heart is dead'
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Nina Brabham's voice grew weak and her eyes welled up with tears as she wondered where she and her 12-year-old boy would end up come Friday morning.
They are among 30 families who have been staying at the Stony Point Conference Center since superstorm Sandy hit Oct. 29. All now face a Friday deadline to find alternative housing so that the conference center can honor reservations. So far, Brabham has had no luck.
Slumped on one of two twin beds in the dorm-style room she has been sharing with her son, Anthony Jamieson, for the past month, Brabham described herself as "burned out" over housing problems. At the very least, she and her son need to find a place to stay for the weekend and hope that the conference center can take them back next week. They moved out for a weekend, then back again, earlier in November.
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That weekend, Brabham sent Anthony to stay with a relative in Nanuet -- where her other son, Michael, 16, has been living. She used cash from her brother to get herself a room at the Stony Point Motel for $61 a night.
"I called three places today for an apartment and I haven't heard from one of them," Brabham said. "This isn't easy, but I'm still trying. I'm separated from my older son, but he calls me every day to check in. I got to see him on Thanksgiving, which was so nice."
The center is still working with each family and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine who is still eligible for temporary housing assistance, said co-director Kitty Ufford-Chase.
"We are trying to figure out places for them to go," Ufford-Chase said. "We have more than 30 different families with 30 different circumstances. We're trying to walk alongside them and support them. We definitely don't want to put anyone out in the street."
The center may be able to accommodate a few families on Monday, but they would have to leave again the following weekend, when the conference center's rooms are again booked. Preparing for Friday, Brabham already has started packing up her belongings and putting them into her 2002 Chevrolet Cavalier. She spent $600 repairing flood damage to the car.
"The mechanic says it's not going to last long. They were able to get it running again, but the 'check engine' light won't turn off. If that goes, I won't have a way to get to work," said Brabham, who has lived in Rockland County since age 7 and has worked with the mentally challenged for more than three decades.
At the conference center, Brabham and her son share one toilet and one shower with residents from four other double-occupancy rooms. After work Wednesday, Brabham used the single washer and dryer in her building to wash the few articles of clothing they have. Freshly folded laundry sat on the counter in neat piles. One pair of sneakers and two pairs of shower sandals were stowed in the wooden shelves. A few button-down shirts hung in the closet.
They lost most of their clothing in the flood that enveloped their apartment on River Road in Stony Point.
"My son asked me the other day, 'What's happened with this world?' and I just felt so terrible," Brabham said. "I didn't have a lot to begin with, but I have my beautiful family and I thank God for that."
While officials in New York are discussing a massive infusion of federal disaster aid, not much of it has come Brabham's way. She was given $5,000 from FEMA -- $2,900 for rent and the rest as compensation for her losses.
"Once I find an apartment, that money will go toward getting my family new beds," Brabham said.
She said she is struggling emotionally.
"I know it's not my fault," Brabham said. "But I can't help thinking it is. This hurts me to see my kids going through this."
Much of what was lost can never be replaced, she said.
"My heart is dead," she said. "Because we lost all our memories, every family photo. I lost my mom and brother at a really young age, and now all my memories of them are gone."
As Brabham put on her coat to head to dinner Wednesday night, her son kissed her on the cheek and wrapped his arms around her.
"I'm a single mother and I've always had to step up," Brabham said. "People think single moms are so strong, and we are. But we also fall apart and we do go to pieces. When you've gone down far enough, you know the only thing you can do is come back up. I'm fighting for my chance to come back up."
To donate to Sandy victims in Stony Point, visit the North Rockland Business Alliance website at http://northrocklandchamber.org/.