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Left Behind: One Sandy Survivor's Journey Home

When I first heard Milagros’ story, I quickly became angry and frustrated. These hostile feelings arose from learning about the many hurdles to recovery encountered by this sweet, elderly woman for seven years following Superstorm Sandy. Instead of enjoying life in her golden years, she had been displaced from her home — a place she lived for 45 years, battling bureaucracy and fraudulent contractors. When I met her, she was terribly close to reaching her breaking point. 

“Milli”, as she is known by all who know her, is 86, a grandmother, and is a kind and loving soul. She amazingly possesses so many grandmotherly qualities that our entire team sees her as family. But despite her good nature, Milli was tired of fighting. Home seemed somewhere out of reach. Sadly, her story is not unlike many of the clients we’ve helped over the years, though it never gets easier or less frustrating to think that peoples’ humanity is set aside to follow a process that simply doesn’t work. 

Milagros-Ramiez

Milli followed the rules. She received federal assistance to help with her recovery. A stipulation of the federal recovery funding she received required her to elevate the home, relocate utilities and abate a moderate amount of asbestos and lead. However, the contractor Milli paid to do this work took advantage of the situation and left the project after only completing half of the work. 

Like many New Jersians after Superstorm Sandy, Milli was the victim of contractor negligence. The only silver lining is that the contractor has now been indicted and may face fraud charges in Milli’s case along with dozens of others. None of this would help Milli in the present, whose home had been lifted and placed on a temporary foundation, only to be abandoned. 

Her home remained on temporary cribbing for several years and began to show signs of collapsing. It was very close to being condemned, when the State of New Jersey reached out to SBP. Our team was able to take control of the project on behalf of Milli, who by this time had completely lost faith that she’d ever return home. 

Milagros_Before1

The SBP New Jersey team went to work navigating the red tape — choosing to focus on solving the funding issues first. From there it was easier to chart a clear and predictable path forward for construction. As the volunteers, subcontractors and the “young people in yellow shirts”  started making progress on her home, Milli began to feel at ease. Finally in May, after seven years of living without dignity or independence — after losing trust and nearly reaching her breaking point, Milli’s home repair was completed.

Milagros_After1

Like Milli, there are thousands of homeowners in New Jersey that have been forgotten, silently struggling to recover since the storm in 2012. They have faced, and continue to face innumerable obstacles on their road to return to a safe a secure home. And like Milli, the challenges they face are solvable. We are proud to work for an organization, buoyed by the generosity and thoughtfulness of volunteers and donors from all over the world — willing to remain in a recovery long after the attention and media has waned — to still be lifting up the forgotten survivors so many years later.