The death toll from Hurricane Sandy hit 110 on Saturday. Damage estimates range from $33 billion to as high as $50 billion. More than 600,000 people in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut are still without power. Rubble and garbage litter the streets where angry residents scoop water from swimming pools to flush their toilets with. Destruction dims their morale, but jail might be next for Hurricane Sandy’s victims.
FEMA is looking at the possibility of re-activating the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on Staten Island as a shelter for some of the 40,000 New Yorkers left homeless by the storm. The prison would be able to accommodate 900 to 1,000 people if heat and wastewater treatment systems were restored to the facility. More than $25 million was spent by the state in the seven years prior to its closure in December 2011. The prison was built in 1969 and used then as a drug addiction rehab center. In 1976 it was re-classified as a medium security prison until budget cuts forced its closure.
The New York Post reported Friday that “on Staten Island alone, about 5,200 people applied for temporary FEMA housing, but only about two dozen people have been successfully placed.” Officials are weighing the decision because the prison offers many long term advantages to displaced families.
The Arthur Kill “Big House” includes a commercial-grade kitchen with walk-in freezers, a large cafeteria-style dining area, a gymnasium with a basketball court and exercise area, an indoor pool and an outdoor sports area with a baseball diamond and basketball courts. Two three -story buildings have multiple classrooms where temporary schools can be conducted. Common area bathroom and shower areas, though lacking privacy, provide basic essentials. Medical and law enforcement facilities are also on site. The 69-acre prison with its 45 buildings and 345,000 square feet of space could provide reasonable shelter for nearly a thousand people while they rebuild their homes.
The stigma of “living in a prison,” has many residents up in arms over the proposal. One resident who lost his home and whose wife, two children and dog are staying at Mount Manresa’s Jesuit Retreat House remembered that his mother often visited his brother at the prison. She told him many times that his brother looked “miserable” while incarcerated at the “filthy” and “disgusting” place. Many of Sandy’s victims echo Wally Martinez’ fears of being placed by FEMA in the “prison” accommodations at the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility.
Staten Island’s Borough President, James Molinaro, who has been extremely vocal about the failures of FEMA and the Red Cross to quickly address the needs of Hurricane Sandy’s victims, is opposed to the use of the prison. Molinaro called federal and Red Cross response to his constituents “an absolute disgrace” and he discouraged people from donating to the Red Cross, but he failed to offer alternatives or to give reasons for his opposition to the use of Arthur Kill.
Other officials are in favor of preparing the prison for long-term accommodations. Schools need to be vacated so children can go back to school and residents need places to live while they struggle to put their lives and their homes back in order.
President Obama flew to New Jersey for his photo op with Governor Chris Christie, but he hasn’t been seen in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg has steered clear of Staten Island where residents are screaming about the big city’s feeble response to the destruction. Approximately 2,700 evacuees are staying in emergency shelters in the city.
Many Hurricane Sandy victims are staying in their battered homes without power and without heat because they fear looters will steal their few remaining possessions. Most seniors will refuse to move to a prison facility where they could end up sleeping in a bunk next to someone admitted with undesirable “pre-existing conditions.” Mentally disturbed street people, drug and alcohol abusers and sexual deviants pose a real risk to weak and defenseless seniors. Children might easily fall prey to the prowling predators.
With the exception of a single-day suspension our President was busy campaigning. Two days after the storm he landed for his photo op with Governor Christie in New Jersey. He took off the same day to return to the campaign trail. Later this week our caring President will be jetting off to Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia to encourage democracy in the region. He has generously decided, however, to make a quick photo-op stop on Thursday amidst the ruins in New York City (applications for a presidential hug are already being accepted). Mayor Bloomberg spent his time during and after the storm attempting to save and then to reschedule the New York City Marathon.
75% of New York City’s 800 gas stations are closed. Eight of its 57 fuel depots have been shut down. Fuel supplies may take weeks to return to normal. Price gouging by gas stations, hotels, convenience stores and restaurants is commonplace in the boroughs and in the suburbs.
40,000 New Yorkers are still homeless. President Obama had his picture taken in New Jersey, but hasn’t been seen at all in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg is searching for the next soft drink he can ban in “his” state.
Hurricane Sandy’s Staten Island victims sit shivering in the cold, dark wreckage of their wind-swept homes. Some are kneeling in prayer with blankets shrouding their shoulders. They pray that their busy boss men will never find the time to sign their executive order death warrants.
To most of them, arrest and “jail” at the Arthur Kill Correctional Facility would be a fate far worse than death.
But will the Boss Men in their Big White Houses give a damn?
I think not! Recent history has answered the question for us: