Thousands of people flooded out by Superstorm Sandy still sleep in motels and hotels after losing their homes three months ago.
The federal government gas spent $26 million just to house people in New Jersey, but some say they came very close to being left out in the cold.
Point Pleasant Manor usually offers refuge from summer sun and beach time on the Jersey shore, but since Sandy hit, it houses flooded-out families like Gina Booker and her family of five, including her 14-month old son.
“I’m so stressed out every day,” Booker said.
FEMA pays for Booker’s stay under a temporary shelter assistance program that was slated to end soon. About 1,500 people remain in the program, the agency said, down from about 5,000 when Sandy first hit.
“They want people in a more permanent situation, but it’s not easy,” Booker said.
She noted the hundreds of people applying for the same apartments.
“They see one ad,” she said. “By the time you get to go see the place, it’s already taken.”
Three months after Sandy, so many lives remain in a holding pattern. People wait for word from insurance companies and the federal government.
New Point Pleasant Manor arrival Christina Tiko was really grateful for Girl Scout gift bags for her family of five, after two months sleeping on couches and the floor in her aunt’s garage, kept warm buy space heaters.
“The way that she fell through the cracks, I’m not sure if there are other people who fell through the cracks like she has,” Point Pleasant General Manager Linda Occhipinti said.
Occhipinti helps storm-weary guests in 47 rooms navigate a sea of red tape spawned by Sandy.
“I’m not going to take ‘no’ for an answer,” she said.
But she did get a “no” from FEMA for Tiko’s stay, confirmed to News4 by the agency, which insists it’s too late for Tiko’s family to apply for the temporary shelter program.
In addition to the “no,” the tone of the conversation upset Occhipinti.
“You got to get paid somehow, otherwise she’s staying there or throw her out on the street,” she said they told her. “And I’m not throwing anybody out on the street.”
Tiko said she had her own nightmare phone call with FEMA.
“A supervisor from FEMA asked me if I was stupid because I should have done this already, and those were her exact words,” she said.
“There’s no reason for it,” she added. “That’s what you’re there for, to help us, and they pretty much belittle us and make us feel like we’re worthless.”
A FEMA spokesman told News4 he finds it hard to believe FEMA caseworkers would use the language described, but News4’s repeated attempts to ask for a response from FEMA's director in D.C. have gone unanswered.
Since News4 started asking about Tiko's situation, the Red Cross has agreed to pay for her motel stay, and FEMA has been back in touch with her about possible additional help, which she has turned down, according to FEMA.
FEMA announced Thursday it is extending the program in New York and New Jersey for two weeks.