Coney Island was one of the hardest hit neighborhoods after Hurricane Sandy last year. Credit: Getty
One storm washed away Evens Altindor's home, car and job.
A year ago Tuesday, when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City, Altindor was renting the ground floor of a house in Coney Island with his wife and two sons. When Altindor realized how badly Sandy had damaged his possessions and his home, the situation was grim, but the nightmare was just beginning.
It was obvious that Altindor would have to leave the neighborhood he had called home for 15 years. He and his family stayed at his sister's house in Queens while he tried to plan the next step, but the misfortunes never seemed to end. The hurricane wrecked his car, and Altindor relied on his vehicle to commute to his job installing air conditioners, heaters and boilers for a company on Long Island. Soon, he lost his job, too.
For many months, Altindor and his family found meager solace in the fact that they had a place to return to every night, even if it didn't have a kitchen or much elbow room. FEMA placed the Altindors in the Park Central hotel in midtown Manhattan. In the meantime, Altindor looked for a job.
"It's been very hard, looking for a job," he told Metro. "I've been working for 30 years and they all say, 'We're going to call, we're going to call.' And they don't. Nobody calls. You lose everything and you have a wife and kids to take care of."
On Oct. 4, Altindor and his family were among the hundreds of Sandy victims to get kicked out of their hotels. The city evicted hurricane evacuees after FEMA's hotel reimbursement program expired.
After a few days, Altindor gave in and moved his family to a shelter. "I didn't want to go there," he said. "I'll tell you what — this is something I've never done." He, his wife and two children have been sleeping on two bunk beds in one bedroom at the Bridge Haven Family Transitional Residence. Altindor said the commute from Park Central to his sons' school in Coney Island, P.S. 329, was bearable, clocking in around an hour. Now, the commute from Bridge Haven can take up to three hours.
"We wake up at 4:50, 4:55 in the morning and leave around 5:30," he said. "We take the Bx11 to the subway, then the 4 Train to Yankee Stadium, then the D Train to Coney Island — that takes one hour and 20 minutes — and then another bus from the Coney Island station to school." The commute leaves Altindor and his sons exhausted. He said they often sleep on the subway on their way home. "By the time they get home, they're so tired, and they still have to do their homework," he said.
Changing schools is not an option for Altindor's two sons. "They love their schools and they love their teachers," he explained. "They want to stay at the same school." Altindor spends the rest of his day job hunting or at Coney Island's newly reopened library; mainly, he avoids the shelter.
"It makes you feel like you're not a human," he said. "I've never been to jail before, but I feel like I'm in jail now." He explained that he feels like his freedom is compromised as he has to sign in and sign out every time he enters or leaves the building.
Ann Dibble, director of the Storm Response Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group, said Altindor came to the organization just a few weeks ago to ask for help. "He didn't understand the things he was necessarily entitled to," said Dibble. "He wasn't receiving what he thought he should receive, but when we spoke to him we identified several other issues." She explained that her group is helping Altindor file claims for the loss of his car (he was denied by FEMA before) and the possessions in his home.
Altindor lost his passport when Sandy wrecked his home, and has not replaced it; this delayed his application process for the Section 8 voucher he needs to be able to rent an apartment on Coney Island. Dibble said the voucher has been approved, but Altindor can't move in until the apartment passes inspection.
For Altindor, that day can't come soon enough. "The living conditions at the shelter are hard — it's hard," he said. "I'm waiting for an inspection in the next few weeks." His dream is to be back in Coney Island before Thanksgiving.