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A month later: disaster like no other

BY SUSAN KIM | BALTIMORE | October 11, 2001

"I don't think there's too much money if we are talking about truly dealing with economic and spiritual needs across the country."

—Linda Reed-Brown

One month after the Sept. 11 attacks, responders in DC and New York say they've reached some milestones. It's the question of how to manage the long-term need that keeps them awake at night.

When trained volunteers from Church World Service (CWS) found a Spanish-speaking community in New York City under economic hardship after collapse of the World Trade Center, CWS was able to team with other voluntary agencies to help those families.

Linda Reed-Brown, associate director for domestic response for the Church World Service emergency response program, described that response as "the pillar of fire in the night in the desert."

It is impetus to go on. "We know there are more," said Reed-Brown, who has for the last month been coordinating response to a disaster unlike any other the faith community has responded to before.

"We can't go clean out houses. We can't pick up debris. We can't do the things churches normally do. For many people who want to help in a hands-on way, there was no way to express compassion."

Fortunately, many people who realized the inappropriateness of onsite volunteerism or material donations reached for their wallet, collectively giving millions of dollars to charities -- unfortunately not all of them legitimate -- nationwide.

Now with the public beginning to rumble about where the money will be spent, Reed-Brown said responding agencies will have to target their resources well.

"I don't think there's too much money if we are talking about truly dealing with economic and spiritual needs across the country," she said. "I think we need to use it wisely and appropriately -- and that means using it locally."

Donors who want "instant results" should not be disappointed to find out their contribution will help to meet a long-term need. "There is tremendous public pressure to spend that money today," said Reed-Brown. "But that's not what needs to happen."

Dick Balnicky, a voluntary agency liaison for Federal Emergency Management Agency Region 10, echoed Reed-Brown's concerns about the money that has been raised in the past month. "What keeps me awake at night is the realization that thousands of organizations around America that are raising money and they're finding out it's a lot easier to raise it than to spend it appropriately."

Spending money wisely can happen only with "hard efforts and a lot of footwork," he added.

CWS is already engaged in such footwork, attempting to assess some of the economic impact of the attacks, and project some of the long-term needs that will result.

There were 1,500 residences destroyed in New York City on Sept. 11, said Reed-Brown, but even more people could lose their homes as a result of longer-term economic impact. "Even people with a lot of 'paper wealth' in a couple of years may not have a home," she said.

Kimberly Hall, a CWS disaster response facilitator who has been assessing possible long-term economic impacts in both DC and New York City, said many people don't yet know how they've been affected because economic impact can take months to surface.

Economists are estimating that three million jobs may be lost across the U.S. as a result of the attacks -- and that poses a challenge to the faith-based groups trying to help the unemployed.

"How do you retrain somebody?" asked Hall. "And what economic sustainability do you have while you retrain them?"

In the hospitality industry, said Hall, many companies are cutting employees' hours back instead of laying them off. "It's a good thing that people will still have some of their paycheck coming in," she said. "But for some people that cutback will mean they can no longer afford to put gas in their car or afford the train fare to go to work."

Shirley Norman, a CWS disaster response facilitator who has been coordinating efforts in DC, said she has already seen the need emerging.

"I am worried about bellhops, independent cabbies, maids, and others who live off of tips," she said.

As the service industry takes a dive, the defense industry may be on the upswing, added Hall, "but those jobs aren't transferable. How do you train somebody who's been a bellhop to be a rocket scientist?"

Hall added that both DC and New York City are areas in which people often live in one state and work in another. "That means when people are trying to get financial help, they'll have to contend with jurisdictional boundaries and rules."

And it's not just in DC and New York City, added Hall. "In the Los Angeles area, for example, there is no more onsite parking at the airport. So anybody who ran that onsite parking is out of a job."

It's all going to be coupled with spiritual needs and mental health challenges, she said. "We're less than 100 days away from Christmas. I think we're going to see a lot of depression."

Even as responders worry over long-term impacts, they're trying to bring closure to some aspects of their response.

Memorial services will be held at both the Pentagon and also in churches throughout New York City. "I believe that will bring a lot of closure," said Balnicky.

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