NEW MILFORD — A year is long enough for a teenager to make a new friend, but not long enough to stop missing his old ones.
It's long enough for a Sandy evacuee to start her own law practice, and her family to start a new life.
But it's not long enough for all the homes that burned in Breezy Point, N.Y., during the hurricane to be rebuilt. It's not long enough for the lowest-income refugees of the storm, living on disability checks, to figure out where to go next.
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Faith Church, 600 Danbury Road #1, New Milford, CT 06776, USA
Thirty-two people who found safe haven after the storm on the grounds of Faith Church in New Milford now face a deadline of Dec. 31 to either get accepted at a local mobile home park or find a new place to live.
"The ramifications of Sandy are still enormous. There are so many people that are displaced and hurting, paying mortgages on houses they can't live in," said Frank Santora, pastor of Faith Church, a nondenominational congregation that has hosted Sandy refugees from Staten Island and Queens on its property for 10 months. The church provided land for mobile homes, food pantry help, free tuition at the church school, donated furniture, clothes and household goods — and open hearts.
Over the next two months, several of the families will move to nearby Candle Hill North Mobile Home Park, whose parent company is buying the mobile homes. Two families plan to move back to their rebuilt homes in Queens.
But most are still in limbo.
Maryann Daino, 62, wants to stay in Connecticut because of the way people have treated her. "The compassion, I can't tell you. How giving and understanding they are," said Daino, whose home on Staten Island was already in foreclosure when flood waters wiped out all she owned.
But the uncertainty of who will rent to her, with her poor credit and her five cats, makes her feel vulnerable, she said. "They put us here and say: 'Heal in a year.' We're not healed yet."
'We Had No Place To Go'
Two days before Christmas, people who had been living in shelters in New York City for three months moved into 14 trailers on the church grounds. Some came with children or an elderly parent, others moved in alone or with their pets.
New Fairfield resident John Hodge, who is director of operations for the Stephen Siller Tunnels To Towers Foundation, attends Faith Church. He said he and Santora thought that providing space for mobile homes on the grounds of the church would be the best way to help storm victims after the initial rush of sending goods to relief centers.
At their behest, New Milford's mayor got the zoning board to suspend the zoning rules for a year, and Connecticut Light & Power donated its services for free.
The foundation — named for Hodge's cousin, a firefighter from Staten Island who died at the World Trade Center — spent $550,000 on site work and the trailers.
Twenty-eight days after Hodge and Santora got the idea, storm evacuees moved onto the grounds of Faith Church.
The days have weighed heavily for some whose lives were upended by Sandy; for others, the year of recovery has flown by.
Guill Hernandez, 39, and his wife, Luz, 37, had lived with their son, Santiago, 14, and daughter, Vanessa, 5, in a $1,500-a-month, three-bedroom rental by the water in Midland Beach on Staten Island for eight months before Sandy hit.
"We completely lost everything. We had no place to go," said Hernandez, who had been laid off from his job managing 80 parking garages in Manhattan the week before the hurricane. His wife worked as a cashier at Wendy's. He also had a wholesale clothing business, and $18,000 worth of merchandise and the delivery van. "The water took it. The van, the two cars."
For three months, they lived in high school gyms and auditoriums with hundreds of other displaced families.
"It was horrible, because you couldn't sleep at night," Santiago remembered. He said his parents would take turns staying up all night, fearful someone would steal what few possessions they still had.