Friday, July 20, 2012

“If they weren’t here, we don’t know what would have happened to us.”

Photo: E. Calderon/S. Johnson

Okisha Ashley, her four children and her grandmother, Nellie, who was visiting from the Island of Jamaica, were fast asleep in Okisha’s Walton Avenue apartment in the Bronx around 12:30 am on July 18 when they were awoken by someone kicking hard at the apartment door.

Alarmed, Okisha called the police. Then she looked out the window, saw fire trucks and heard a commotion. She immediately grabbed her kids and her grandmother and ran downstairs and out of the building.

“We didn’t bring anything,” she said, “just the cloths on our backs.”

Her entire apartment, her home for 33 years, was destroyed—her ceiling had collapsed as a result of all the water being used to put out the fire above.

“I had just remodeled my apartment—new furniture, a new TV,” said Okisha, “Everything is gone.”

They were, however, very glad to be safe.

“I was just thankful that we are all alive.”

After evacuating, they waited in a park across the street until the Red Cross set up a reception center at nearby All Hallows High School. There, they cooled down a bit, ate and waited.

At the center, a Red Cross responder told Okisha that she and her family were eligible for emergency housing at a hotel. Although grateful for the offer, they declined and stayed with a friend.

They did, however, come to Greater NY headquarters in Manhattan the next day where Red Cross caseworkers provided the family with emergency funds for clothing.

“My kids have been wearing the same thing since the fire,” said Okisha, “Because of the Red Cross, I’ll be able to buy them a change of clothes.”

The Red Cross also provided Okisha with information on how to obtain long-term housing while their apartment is being renovated.

“I didn’t know the Red Cross was so helpful,” said Okisha. “You would never think you would be in that situation; that’s how quick you can end up homeless. I really appreciate what the Red Cross did for us. If they weren’t here, we don’t know what would have happened to us.”

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