Full Inclusion of Disability Community Critical in Sandy Recovery

“As recovery from Hurricane Sandy moves forward,  it is critical that the recovery process- on all levels, must be inclusive of persons with disabilities,” stated Robert Kley, Vice President and COO of the Mental Health Association in New Jersey, as part of a FEMA Region II Disability Community Stakeholders Meeting held in NYC on February 13th.  This was the first in a series of meeting being held by FEMA to bring together representatives of the disability community into the FEMA framework for recovery.

FEMA has established a National Disaster Recovery Framework of which the principle emphasis is the importance of inclusion at all levels of individuals and families with disabilities to be represented and participate in pre and post disaster planning.   “In New Jersey, a large number of vulnerable adults and families, including those with serious mental illness and substance abuse issues, had their lives devastated by the storm.   Many lost their housing, possessions, cars and jobs and were relocated far away from their home communities –  and they are still living in temporary housing today.  How their needs are represented to FEMA and the Long Term Recovery Committees will be critical to an opportunity return to their hometowns,” stated Kley.

In early February, MHANJ held a focus group of staff members who work in the communities in New Jersey most impacted by Hurricane Sandy to identify the core issues of the most vulnerable.   The lack of affordable housing, being unable to understand or access available recovery services and a sense of helplessness are common barriers preventing individuals and families from moving on.  MHANJ focuses efforts through New Jersey Hope and Healing, its Peer Outreach Support Teams, and support groups to help this underserved population.

MHANJ’s Atlantic and Ocean County offices are active members of each county’s Long Term Recovery Committees, and are using peer and professional staff to support consumers to participate in the subcommittees to keep their needs in the spotlight.  Over the coming months significant decisions will be made on the future of Sandy impacted communities and the needs of the most vulnerable must be well represented – especially with their own voices at the table.

Funding for Superstorm Sandy Recovery
Efforts through Generous Grants from:
American Red Cross Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Mental Health Association in New Jersey, Inc.

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