Experience at a Shelter for Hurricane Sandy

October 31, 2012 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


As I watched the news today (10/30/12) to see the effects the storm had on the area, I heard some of the same outrageous statements I had heard the day before from the mayor and officials:

−If people did not evacuate then it’s their own fault if they get hurt

−They are selfish and dumb for not leaving

This system not only does not care about human life, it does not provide any means in which people can help themselves or others to survive a natural disaster.

At the same time it was reported on NPR that they were not allowing any media into the shelters. And as much as I watched the coverage of the storm, I did not see any coverage of the shelters. So I started to wonder how this system was going to help people out. I got a couple of e-mails form some social service organizations asking for volunteers, they reported the shelters were in need of a lot of volunteers. The city had provided 56 evacuation centers (Shelters) throughout the city and they had way more people than centers. I texted and e-mailed to some of my revolutionary friends to find a list of shelters and ways in which people could volunteer. We talked about going to the shelters to talk to people about what was really going on in these shelters.

So we thought we would volunteer...

First we tried to figure out where we can find a shelter, how we would get there with no public transportation, and what kind of help they would need. We looked all over the Internet, we texted other friends with ties to social service agencies, then we called all the numbers that were listed on the city Internet sites. No luck, phones were never picked up and there was no information of where to go... The Red Cross had a page that said you had to go to midtown for two hours of training, and then be available for 12-hour shifts... All public transportation was shut down, so this was impossible to do unless you had a car. In our search for volunteering we found a list of all the shelters. I noticed there was one about 30 blocks from were I live, and since my friends were in different boroughs I went alone. They were going to try the same thing the next day if the city got more buses running.

Since there were limited buses, I walked about half the blocks. In my walk I talked to a few people who were shocked and surprised about the effects of the storm. They never imagined it would really flood lower Manhattan. They talked about watching the news all night, and how worried they were about people in general. About two blocks away from the shelter I ran into an older man who seemed very disoriented, he had a medical band on his wrist like he had just been in a hospital. When he asked me for the name of the street, I told him that I was headed to a shelter and he should head there if he wanted to.

As I got closer to the shelter, I realized it was dark and all the doors were closed, so unless you knew it was an evacuation center, you would miss it completely. Finally when I found an open door I was first greeted by seven to eight NYPD cops. Who asked what the hell I was doing there... I said I wanted to volunteer at the shelter, they said they wanted my ID and to search my backpack and jacket. I felt that any moment they were going to throw me against the wall, pat me down and fingerprint me. After I signed some paperwork they pointed me to the volunteer office. There the supervisor was surprised I was volunteering out of the blue… since the rest of the volunteers were city workers that were required to do 12 hours shifts. I said it was not so out of the blue, there was this big storm, I had seen e-mails calling for volunteers. She still did not understand and said they really did not have a big need at this shelter, but could not tell me what shelter had a big need. I mentioned how I had two years experience working at a homeless shelter, and I work for a foster agency & ACS so I knew most of the social services available to people, so they agreed to let me volunteer.

Then they gave me an orange vest (so I would not be confused with the evacuees), a flashlight ("so I can defend myself if someone got out of hand"), and a walkie talkie ("so I can call for help"). Then off I went for the tour of the prison, I mean evacuation center...

As we were walking down to the sleeping & eating area, I asked the supervisor if there were many people from Zone A areas. She looked at me with a disgusted look on her face and said "no, these are homeless people, not ‘real’ people that were evacuated by the storm." Right, because the shelters were for people that already had homes, not people that had no protection from storm to begin with, and besides homeless people were not "real" people!!

In the cafeteria I was assigned to sit with the other volunteers at a table and watch the people eat, sleep, and escort them out the room or building to make sure they did not steal anything. Just a note, the lights are left on all night, when I asked why? I was told, because we want to make sure they don't steal or start a fight with each other.... I started to wonder if I had just become a prison guard or volunteered to help people.

After a couple of hours the person I had ran into on my way to the shelter came in, Carl... He tried to come over and thank me for letting him know about center, but he was stopped by two NYPD officers because he was not suppose to approach the volunteers. He kept saying "but that's the nice lady that helped me, I don't want to bother her, just thank her." After they escorted him to his cot in the corner, the cop came over and said to the volunteers "keep an eye on him, seems like a trouble maker, we might have to get rid of him."

I got up from my chair and went to sit with Carl and others while they were eating dinner. As it turns out Carl (65 year old Black man) was a "real" person that had spent the previous night in the hospital and could not get back home because he lived in the 6th floor of a housing project and the elevators were turned off. The other two guys were not "real", they were homeless people. They come in late last night when the wind was blowing the gates of the stores from one side of the street to the other. They talked about how crazy it was, how they felt like they were going to be blown away with the wind, how scared they were because the wind had a howling loud sound. Max (a young Dominican guy) said he was real scared of the hurricane, but not as scared as he was when he came in the shelter and was greeted by 10 NYPD cops. Rick (an older Black Vietnam vet), laugh and agreed, he said as soon as things were better he would get out of there.

They ask me why I volunteered and I said I was part of building a movement for Revolution and wanted to hear from people themselves what was going on, to talk to people about how things do not have to be this way, that society can be organized in a much better way. I asked them to imagine if the state and the police did not have to get in the way of people helping each other in this situation. Rick said that they would of helped people protect their stores, but the police walked around warning people of looters. Max said he could of helped Carl get up the stairs so he would not have to be in the streets.

Carl mentioned how they always talk about going around the world providing help for other people but they don't help Black people in this country. I took out the palm card with quote 1:3 of BAsics and read it out loud. I mention how they do not help anyone. Carl said this country fucked him up when he was young and went to Vietnam, they taught him to kill children and then called him a baby killer.

The conversation was stopped when one of the supervisors and a security guard came to the table and said they wanted to have a word with me. They said I was not allowed to talk to the people in the shelter, I was just supposed to watch them and make sure they did not start trouble or steal anything. I said well should we not take care of their needs, and they said yes, so I said how would I know what their needs are if I do not talk to them. And then I was told there were too many volunteers and I should just go home.

I went back to the table, gave Carl, Max and Rick a palm card and told them I would be back tomorrow morning...

I walked out thinking can you say Police State!!! Why would anyone go the shelters, where they will be treated like criminals? But this is how they set the whole thing up, the other volunteers were good people, some were doing more then their 12 hour shifts, but if you’re not allowed to talk to people, just watch them to make sure they don't steal anything, then how can you help people. Instead volunteers are being told and trained to watch "criminals" and people are being treated like "criminals".

As I was walking home I thought of the title of Bob Avakian’s new interview "What Humanity Needs—Revolution, and the New Synthesis of Communism".... And toward the end he writes, “That's the importance of all this. It has to do with whether the masses are gonna be chained in these conditions of unspeakable misery, and unnecessary misery, or whether there's actually gonna be a fighting chance to break out of this and get humanity to a whole different place. That's what this is all about, and that's what the role of individuals should be about: contributing whatever they can to that—not just as individuals, but as part of a collective process, as part of a broader revolutionary movement and, as they get to the point of being fully won to this, making the leap to becoming part of the Party that has to be at the core and play the leading role collectively in this whole revolutionary process.”

And the answer to this is Yes! This is what we NEED!!! People should be safe, but we should also take this opportunity to go out and be amongst the people, bring them BAsics, letting them know the world does not have to be this way, they have a productive role to play in transforming society, and we can find many collective ways to meet the needs of the people in general. This is a great opportunity for us to continue building a movement for revolution.


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