As we all know by now, recovering from Hurricane Sandy will be a long, slow process for much of the Jersey shore. Homeowners are finding that it can take months to settle with insurance companies, and they still do not know what new building standards eventually will be set.
For lower-income homeowners, problems can be compounded by a lack of insurance and, we are now discovering, a lack of trust.
Groups that have the money and manpower to help these homeowners are having a tough time finding people willing to accept their assistance.
As Press staff writer Sarah Watson reported Monday, groups such as Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing in the New Jersey Pines have grant money that can be used to rehabilitate damaged houses, but they have had a surprisingly difficult time finding homeowners to help.
Some of that may be because some homeowners are no longer living in their damaged houses or because people simply haven't heard about the programs. Some homeowners may have had bad experiences with contractors or volunteers who showed up after the storm.
But a big part of the problem seems to be that some homeowners simply don't trust the folks who are coming to their doors offering help.
"What I'm finding as a newcomer is a greater level of fear and suspicion," said Craig Snow, operations director for a long-term recovery group in Atlantic City.
Part of the problem may be that some low-income homeowners fear any contact with groups that seem to be connected with governmental entities. Some may be undocumented immigrants, or may come from countries where government officials could not be trusted.
Whatever the reason, it is frustrating to see this unnecessary disconnect between groups that are trying to help and people who could use that help.
Immediately after Sandy, fundraisers were held for the storm's victims. They benefited groups such as The Robin Hood Foundation, which is providing some of the grant money for home repairs. One of the themes of those fundraising efforts was to help preserve shore neighborhoods and communities, to make sure that people with limited incomes could still call the shore home. For that to happen, people have to be willing to accept help.
Perhaps the only way to build more trust is for residents to see other homes in their neighborhoods being rehabilitated. Such actions will mean much more than all the reassurances we can offer.
As Merle Brown, president of the New Jersey branch of the Fuller Center for Housing, told Watson, "We're also dealing with a lot of people who have been promised a lot of things and nothing has been delivered."
Where to call for help
Long-term recovery groups are managing many of the organizations offering rebuilding help to residents whose houses were damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
Atlantic County Long Term Recovery Group: 609-404-4483
Atlantic City Long Term Recovery Group: 609-541-2189
BrigStrong, the group helping Brigantine residents: 609-266-2891
Ocean County Long Term Recovery Group: 732-244-5333
Residents can also call 211, and operators will pass along their information to the appropriate agency.