Up and down the shore, residents are frantically working to keep their homes from being considered uninhabitable — ripping out drywall and carpets, preventing mold.

But many are afraid to ask for help in fear that an official inspection will confirm their home is uninhabitable.

“A lot of people in that situation are keeping their mouths shut and are keeping hidden,” Ventnor Code Enforcement Officer Jimmy Agnesino described it.

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Non profit groups have been helping those who can’t afford to make repairs fast enough, but a major one, the nonprofit group AmeriCorps, left the area on Saturday after five months here.

Now, a collection of local nonprofits, already busy themselves, is being coordinated by Atlantic County’s Long Term Recovery Group in preparation for a full recanvassing of affected neighborhoods. They hope that homeowners will be more open and honest with non-governmental groups, as opposed to government agencies.

“We haven’t got a true needs assessment yet,” said Henry Wise, the chair of the Long Term Recovery Group. “We’ll be doing a door-by-door canvassing to see what people need. Every home they can talk to them and see what their needs are. ... Then we can go back and do an in-depth study, a true picture of just what people need in the community.”

The departure of AmeriCorps, Wise said, “will leave a gap we’re going to try to fill.”

The local groups coordinated by the Long Term Recovery Group include representatives from the Methodist, Presbyterian and Lutheran churches, the Mormon church, Habitat for Humanity, the local Red Cross, United Way and Salvation Army, Wise said.

“A lot of people staying in homes are afraid to tell us for various reasons,” Wise said. “They’re afraid to leave their homes even though there’s mold in their homes.”

While local hospitals have seen an increase in mold-related treatments, Wise said, “we’ve been getting less and less reports of that. ... It’s dwindling, and less people are asking for it. But we don’t know for sure if people really know what to do.”

Any information collected during canvassing is “strictly confidential,” said Ed Conover, Deputy Director for the Atlantic County Office of Emergency Management. “A lot of people are struggling, and they may not want their information going to FEMA or another government agency.”

As AmeriCorps departed this past weekend,, local coordinator Sarah Tomt, from Washington state, said she would stay on until March 29 to work on the transition.

“I find that definitely to be true,” Tomt said of residents’ concerns of admitting the condition of their properties. “We’re out to help people, but some people are worried the effect on their homes if they report what’s happened.”

Real estate broker Donna Cline, with Farley and Ferry Realty in Ventnor, said she knows some tenants who have stayed in homes affected by Sandy.

“I have one tenant who didn’t have water for a few weeks,” Cline said. “She would go to her families house to take showers.”

Many people, she said, “are starting to get work done now. Projects are going on, insurance money is kicking in. I know people out there didn’t have the money to do work, and they’re reducing the sales price of their properties just to get rid of them. The houses were never worked on or raised, and they’re trying to get rid of them because they don’t have the money to rehabilitate.”

One problem, Cline said, “is I don’t know how trusting everyone’s been. They don’t know enough about the non-profit groups, and I imagine some of the people in the area have become suspicious of free help. ... It would be better if were structured, (for example), so that people knew they were doing a good job and clients referred them to me, rather than just knocking on doors.”

Still, AmeriCorps’ door-by-door method worked for Jackie Sharpe of Wabash Avenue in Atlantic City, which has a separate recovery group independent of the county.

“I didn’t qualify for anything,” Sharpe said. “They came to my door a month or so ago and left a number, and we also had them at our church, Jethro Memorial Presbyterian. They said they were going to be in the area, and I asked them if they could come over here.”

After a day of ripping out walls and floors, Sharpe was impressed.

“I like their work ethic,” she said of AmeriCorps. They come in, bring a crew, and are here for a day. They get in, and they get out.”

Contact Steven Lemongello:



Getting help

To contact the Atlantic County Long Term Recovery Group or for more information, call the United Way office in Galloway Township at 609-404-4483. The Atlantic City Long Term Recovery Group can be reached at 609-348-3580.

Follow Steven Lemongello on Twitter @SteveLemongello

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