Post-9/11 needs linger

Unmet needs are still surfacing three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and New York Disaster Interfaith Services is working hard to address them.

BY HEATHER MOYER | NEW YORK CITY | September 11, 2004

"There are some who are still unable to return to work because of health issues."

—Theresa Hui

Unmet needs are still surfacing three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS) is working hard to address them.

NYDIS helps run a weekly Unmet Needs Roundtable where those with resources meet caseworkers and agencies bringing forth cases that need further assistance. "Over $3 million has been given out since the group started meeting in April of 2002," said Theresa Hui, moderator for the roundtable. "Member groups and donors include Lutheran Disaster Response, the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), the Episcopalians, and many more."

NYDIS and Hui are currently working to get more groups with resources to participate, but some are surprised that there are still unmet needs this far out. Hui said the majority of lingering needs include requests for basic support with rent and utility payments, food, and employment issues. "Those in need range in all aspects - some were directly impacted and some were indirectly impacted."

The Unmet Needs Roundtable members are most interested in populations that didn't necessarily fit into the government's assistance guidelines. Hui added that NYDIS is also assisting workers who registered with the World Trade Center Health Registry at Mt. Sinai Medical Center. Thousands of Lower Manhattan residents and volunteers who worked at Ground Zero have been suffering from health issues due to the toxic dust at the site.

"There are some who are still unable to return to work because of health issues," explained Hui. "We also help others having trouble affording transportation get to their treatment appointments."

Collaboration with other response agencies helps NYDIS assess emerging needs as well. Regular contact with other social service agencies in the city focuses the efforts of Hui and NYDIS.

Getting the word out about unmet needs is crucial to keeping a steady flow of resources available for 9/11 survivors. A report on ongoing areas of unmet needs from 9/11 released in late August by NYDIS Director of Disaster Recovery and Victim Advocacy Daniel Bush shows that the five largest job groups served by the Roundtable are food service, hotel tourism, financial services, maintenance, and airline workers. The majority of those workers served are low-wage immigrant and minority employees.

In the report, Bush also said as the number of workers experiencing health issues related to being at or around Ground Zero increases, more of them who cannot provide for themselves or their families will come forward. Getting healthcare assistance is also a daunting task. "The workers' comp process is arduous, and meanwhile basic needs aren't being met," said Bush.

Another area of emerging need is the mental health of 9/11 caseworkers, clergy, and mental health providers. NYDIS is sponsoring several upcoming events to focus on the issue, including a seminar on religion-related violence and resources for healing on Saturday. In late October, Bush said NYDIS is holding a conference for religious leaders and mental health providers meant to deepen the relationship between the two. He said both receive questions about the other's area of expertise, so bringing the two together makes sense.

Sharing spiritual healing practices from different faiths is another project of NYDIS. Sunday marks the first of many interfaith discussions entitled "Working Toward Spiritual Healing and Understanding: Common Ground Between the Faiths in the Aftermath of September 11."

The numerous projects of NYDIS should be an example to other urban environments, according to agency executive director Peter Gudaitis. "We're hoping this model of urban faith-based disaster services can be modeled around the country and world - urban response to disasters is a very different type of response," he said.

"Any city not seriously looking at this issue should be. Many are passive, though, and think if they don't focus on it, a disaster won't happen. Yet any emergency official will tell you it's not a matter of if, but when."

Gudaitis said 9/11 showed many faith communities that they were ill-prepared. Fortunately, though, many NYC faith groups are reaching out to change that now. Religious houses of worship are perfect centralized and useful assets in disasters, explained Gudaitis, so they should play even more of a relief and recovery role.

"They're the easiest and quickest way to get services to people after disasters. They're solidly built, they have bathrooms, a basement, kitchens, and more. The clergy are a tremendous resource because they know their constituency and they know where the special needs are. Yet they're usually under-trained for disasters and under-utilized. Frankly, we're here to change that."

He also does not understand why people don't take more of an interest in mitigation considering it can save so much in the long-run. "What faith group can defend not spending $1 now in mitigation but then paying the $7 after a disaster?"

So NYDIS and all its hard work has been embraced by the local, state, and federal government - as well as other faith groups. And while NYDIS has done amazing relief work so far, Gudaitis voiced what's in the future for the organization.

"We need to be a thoughtful and non-anxious presence. That's our challenge."

He added another quick thought with a laugh. "That, and funding it."

Related Topics:

Motorcycle riders honor Flight 93

NJ interfaith group closes doors

Observing 9/11 by doing good deeds

More links on September 11 2001


Related Links:

New York Disaster Interfaith Services


DNN Sponsors include: