Today's "Ocean County Long Term Recovery Committee" was a good start in addressing the needs of not only the newly-created homeless, but also those who have had to live on the streets prior to Hurricane Sandy and those people who are renovating their damaged homes.
The meeting, attended by well over 200 people representing more than 100 agencies, was hosted by the Ocean County Department of Human Services and sponsored by the OceanFirst Foundation at the Holiday Inn Monday Nov. 19. It was led by Ryan Reilly.
The three-and-a-half hour meeting examined the current efforts being undertaken by agencies during the recovery; identification of the gaps that exist in those efforts; and a presentation of opportunities for the agencies to pursue.
Groups that attended the meeting included FEMA; Ocean County Library; Ocean Inc.; Catholic Charities; Church of Grace and Peace; Townsquare Media; St. Francis Center; Masons; Rotary International; Elks; Kiwanis International; Preferred Behavioral Health; United Way; East Dover Baptist Church; Whispering Pines; Ocean County Human Relations Committee; Ocean Ride; Ocean County Vocation and Technical Schools; Alive in Christ Lutheran Church; Caregivers; Heavenly Driven Disaster Response; Ocean County Health Department; Monmouth Ocean Counties Foodbank; Atlantic Physical Therapy; Community Medical Center; Oceans Harbor House; Ocean Medical Mental Health Services; Toms River Regional School District; Family Promise of Southern Ocean County; Department of Senior Services; Georgian Court University; Clergy and People for Workforce Housing; and Legal Services. There were many others.
Attendees identified several gaps in the services needed, including a clearing house for contacts, coordination of the distribution of supplies, and needs; long-term storage for donations; the need for a long-term strategy to solve the affordable housing; cell phones with cards; the need for professional counselors to address the depression and increased child abuse that often accompanies such trauma; a list of available rental units; digital cameras; insurance negotiators; visiting home care providers; transportation changes; Play 'n Pack cribs; and skilled construction volunteers.
Ocean County Library has already created a list of resources and posted it on the library's Web site www.theoceancountylibrary.org and other groups offered to open similar sites. OceanFirst Foundation has announced it will donate $500,000 in grants to nonprofit (501c3) organizations that are serving people and meeting their needs.
Everyone present agreed the recovery will take years, some estimates going from three to five years. (Katrina took six years.) Comparing it to a marathon, Reilly said the recovery starts off slowly and then keeps a steady pace to the finish. "There's plenty of work for everyone here." he said.
How do we make it better? "One person at a time," said Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari. "We will make a difference in the lives of people," he said. "Why? Because it's the right thing to do."