Thursday, January 7, 2021

Overcoming a Grueling Year

by Stuart Cubbon, American Red Cross in Greater NY

For many New Yorkers, the ongoing pandemic turned 2020 into a year defined by uncertainty and anxiety. For Mark Healey, a resident of Manhattan’s Upper East Side, things were particularly challenging. In April he contracted COVID-19, and in September lost his job. Six weeks later, Healey faced yet another misfortune, a fire in his apartment building.

“Around 1:30 A.M. on October 25th, I heard sounded like my upstairs neighbor was walking back and forth quickly,” said Healey. “I wasn’t sure if I was still dreaming...and then I heard people start to scream.”

He threw on jeans and sneakers and rushed, t-shirt still in hand, through the smoky fourth-floor hallway and down to street level where dazed residents gathered in front of the twenty-four-unit structure watching the fire on the fifth floor.

“You could see flames coming from the side of the building,” he said, “ was pretty wild.”

As the fire grew, Healey became concerned about it potentially spreading to the residence next door. “There is a brownstone from the Civil War-era, one of the few wooden structures still left on the street. I went over and pounded on their door.”

Around 4:30 A.M. Healey was able to get inside his apartment to assess the damage. “My mattress was soaked, water was still leaking from the ceiling, and it stunk. My apartment was unlivable. I didn’t know what to do.”

After spending a few hours at a nearby hotel, Healey returned to his building. A Red Cross team had visited the site earlier in the morning and left contact information prominently posted in case anyone required additional assistance. He called the emergency number not knowing what to expect. 

“I think of the Red Cross as a huge organization that deals with disasters,” he said. “But the speed [the team] reacted to my phone blew me away.” He spoke with a case manager just minutes after calling. “It was unbelievable...there was no hassle involved. It was the biggest sense of relief ever…I had lost my job...and not having a place to go was super stressful.” This anxiety was made worse by his lack of renters’ insurance.

Within twenty minutes, the Red Cross case manager confirmed some good news for Healey: the Red Cross would cover the cost for several nights at a hotel and within an hour he was settled into a room. “The receptionist was so sweet, she understood I had been in a fire and got me a room in the back of the hotel so that I wouldn't hear sirens from the street.”

Not long afterwards, a Red Cross volunteer hand-delivered a prepaid debit card to cover food and other essential expenses. “It was remarkable,” Healey said. “That a Red Cross representative showed up that quickly, in such a big city, with everything going on.”

But Healey’s challenges extended beyond the next several nights. Though he could stay with family if necessary, his closest relatives lived five hours away from NYC. That distance combined with the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and his own health concerns would make traveling back and forth to find a new apartment challenging.

Again, the Red Cross stepped in to help. This time, by facilitating a week-long extension to Healey’s hotel stay. “It gave me a chance to get all my ducks in a row, to talk to my family...and search for a new place [to live.]”

Recovery has not been easy, but the assistance provided by the Red Cross helped Healey get back on his feet. He used the hotel as a home base while organizing his possessions and securing a new apartment. And the extra time made it easier to prepare for a safe trip to Rochester, NY to spend time with his family.

In early December, Healey returned to NYC and moved into a new apartment. Shortly after settling in, Healey spoke again with the Red Cross. When asked about his new home, he simply responded with a sigh of relief: “I love it.”

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