By Joanna Gardner
Frances Hallman’s home was still riddled with mold two years after Superstorm Sandy. Even though she had sustained considerable damages connected to the storm, as a mobile home resident she didn’t qualify for FEMA aid.
The heavy rains of Sandy had caused her roof to buckle from water weight and cave in over her kitchen. In the months following the storm she did her best to make repairs herself, but the problems worsened over time. A Nor’easter storm that hit soon after Sandy and the heavy snowfall last winter only added to the strain on the roof.
A little over a year after the storm she learned she was pregnant and her self-repair efforts had to slow down. Every rainfall, water flowed through holes in the roof, and through leaky windows and doors of her home in Green Creek in Middle Township, Cape May Court House.
Two months after her baby’s birth in May, she was notified that conditions in the home were unsafe for her son and that she was at risk of losing him. A friend told her about the New Jersey 2-1-1 emergency services hotline and she was connected to Catholic Charities’ Disaster Case Management program.
Three months after being introduced to her case manager, Rohan Allen, Frances Hallman’s home has been completely transformed.
“I feel overwhelmed,” Hallman said. “I’m just happy to have things get back to normal.”
As Hallman’s case manager, Allen’s first task was to assess the home’s needs. The disaster program found a contractor for the renovations and Allen began talking to partner agencies to find funding for the reconstruction.
“A job like this takes somebody that doesn’t get discouraged by a ‘no.’ You have to know a lot of people and build that relationship with funders,” Allen said.
Together, Episcopal Relief and Development of the Diocese of New Jersey, the Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities all pitched in to help pay for the extensive repairs needed to Hallman’s home.
Construction began on Sept. 28. The mobile home was stripped down to its aluminum walls. The roof and most of the flooring was completely replaced. The bathroom received a new sink, toilet, and shower. The floors and walls were insulated for the first time.
“I didn’t realize how bad it was until they came in and started ripping stuff out,” Hallman said.
Mold and water damage was extensive. One builder’s foot plunged through a rotting floorboard on his first visit. The house’s new A-frame roof now keeps water out during rainfall and the insulation will reduce Hallman’s utility costs by hundreds of dollars a month this winter.
As construction continued, Allen advocated to child services on Hallman’s behalf. When she needed to move her belongings during repairs, he helped her rent storage space.
“The little people on the wayside that are suffering, no one pays them any attention,” Allen said. “You have to believe that people deserve better.”
This kind intensive case management approach to disaster assistance is a hallmark of Catholic Charities’ disaster response, says Melissa Hruska, director of the disaster case management program started after Super Storm Sandy. Callers through the N.J. 2-1-1 hotline are assigned a case manager by Hruska in the appropriate county. In five of the counties the agency serves, they are the only case management services provider.
“As the case management agency we vet callers and verify their storm impact before they receive any funding intervention,” Hruska said. “Their case manager then can advocate for them to any agency in order to receive funding.”
The agency works with a wide variety of non-profits in the region that have the funds to help storm victims but not the intensive case management piece. In Hallman’s case, Keith Adams, the New Jersey disaster recovery coordinator for Episcopal Relief and Development helped provide the majority of funding for the renovation.
“We primarily fund unmet needs so it’s been a great partnership. Through the case managers we can give funds out to survivors and get them back on track to rebuild their homes and lives,” Adams said. None of us has all the pieces but when we all come and work together, good things happen.”
Catholic Charities works with Long Term Recovery Groups in Atlantic and Cape May County, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross, and other faith-based organizations that continue to assist in Sandy recovery, especially in cases like Hallman’s that have fallen through the cracks.
“We could not do anything in the Camden Diocese without Catholic Charities,” said Rev. Lou Strugala, construction director and spiritual advisor for A Future with Hope, a Sandy relief organization throughout New Jersey sponsored by the Methodist church.
“Catholic Charities provides incredible case management throughout the southern New Jersey region. We provide the construction leadership direction, volunteers and some of the funding. Our collaboration is mutually beneficial to the homeowner,” Strugala said.
In Hallman’s case, that collaboration has led to what is practically a brand new home that is safe for her and her son. Hallman’s plans are to finish the home with a new coat of paint next spring and to spend time enjoying her home with her baby.
“Right now I’m just in the mood for me and him, getting comfortable and enjoying the peace and quiet,” Hallman said. “I’m grateful more than anything.”