Displaced by a hurricane: Disaster relocation lessons

  • Thursday, December 21, 2017 11:05am
  • Opinion

Editor’s note: This is the last of a three-part series by Bellevue resident Rebecca Chatfield detailing the challenges of how she helped the Muñoz-Cintrón family relocate from Puerto Rico to Bellevue following Hurricane Maria.

When people heard about Rafael Muñoz-Cintrón’s family, displaced by Hurricane Maria and moving to a new town three time zones away, the heartfelt offers were mostly warm coats and furniture. During the first three critical weeks after arriving in Bellevue, here are seven resources that mattered most for this family.

The biggest need is cash and credit. Readily available funds are necessary for relocation costs of transportation, food and temporary lodging. Have a credit card with enough room on it to pay for online purchases where cash doesn’t work. Consider as well that move-in costs for rental housing are typically first and last month’s rent plus a security deposit. Assume that financial help from the government or other aid organizations is not readily available and it will be necessary to figure things out on the fly, and pay for it all.

Bring every form of identification available. Make sure passports are current. Bring driver’s licenses, student IDs and anything with identifying pictures on it. Find original birth and marriage certificates, school records, Social Security cards, military discharge documents, and any document that shows name changes over time. Put it all in a sealable, portable folder. Make a few copies of everything and stash them in a second secure location.

Maybe it goes without saying these days, but having access to the internet through a smart phone or other device is critical. Buy a solar charger. Rafael had one, and his phone worked in Puerto Rico when others didn’t have power.

Whenever possible, have a job already lined up at the destination. The money will be critical, of course, but it’s also important to understand how jobs and housing are linked. Without employment, renting an apartment or house will be extremely hard. Landlords quite reasonably won’t rent to someone without a guaranteed income stream, no matter how good the credit score or how sad the story. The general rule of thumb for landlords is that the renter’s ongoing monthly income must be two-and-a-half to three times the rent.

As soon as possible, secure permanent housing. A valid, permanent residence is needed to get a new driver’s license or state ID, to set up a banking account at a local bank, and to sign children up at the local school district. Housing is the lynchpin that unlocks other services and resources available from the school and the government. Permanent housing is the force multiplier of success.

Explore the resources provided by local schools and city government. The fantastic local school district provided exactly the resources for Rafael’s daughters to leap back into school without missing a beat. The schools were the best way to access quick aid from other local nonprofit organizations for clothes and school supplies. Likewise, it was easy to unlock rapid, effective help from the city government of Bellevue. Rafael and Margarita went to the mini-City Hall at Crossroads for health care, food stamps and other services. The well-trained volunteers cut right through the red tape to exactly what was needed.

Try to find someone with a car and a flexible schedule for a couple weeks to help tackle the long list of chores all around town. For people with mobility challenges, or if there are more than five people to drive around at once, using the city bus or pay-by-ride services like Uber or Lyft gets tricky. Find someone with a big car or a truck to help haul supplies around.

Disasters bring out our common humanity, where people show amazing generosity to total strangers. Perhaps the crucial lesson is that kindness makes a community great. Thank you, Bellevue.

Bellevue resident Rebecca Chatfield, PhD, advises nonprofits, small businesses and individuals how to align mission and strategy.

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