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NYCHA Deploys Digital Vans to Help Residents Apply for FEMA Aid
NYCHA Deploys Digital Vans to Help Residents Apply for FEMA Aid

Zoraida Cruz stepped into the NYCHA Digital Van.  The Red Hook West Houses resident had arrived early that day to apply for disaster assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).  Throughout November and December, NYCHA deployed its two Digital Vans – essentially computer labs on wheels – at the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy.  NYCHA teamed up with FEMA volunteers to help residents who do not have access to a computer apply for aid to offset losses from the storm.

NYCHA Digital Vans Provide Mobile Computer Access. (LETICIA BARBOZA/NYCHA)
NYCHA Digital Vans Provide Mobile Computer Access. (LETICIA BARBOZA/NYCHA)

Ms. Cruz sat down with Michele Williamson, a FEMA volunteer from Nebraska, to assess what she might be eligible for.  After helping Ms. Cruz enter basic information on FEMA’s website, Ms. Williamson asked her a series of questions, such as:

“Was there wind or rain or anything coming through your window?”


“Did you lose any essential services from the storm?”

"Yes, for five and a half days.”

“Did you have any medical, dental or funeral expenses as a result of the storm?”


Ms. Cruz’s television shorted out when her building lost power, and it has not worked properly since.  She was pleased with the assistance she received, and hopes she will get the several hundred dollars she was told it will cost to fix the television.  “I’ll take anything they can give,” she said.  “They were very helpful, I know you have to go through a process.”

Before she left, Ms. Cruz was given a registration number and told that FEMA would call her in three to five days to verify the damages.  Once an inspector confirms, she will receive the money.  Given the choice, she asked to be sent a check instead of having the money transferred into an account.

At a total of six Digital Van/FEMA assistance events, 179 residents received help to apply for disaster assistance; another 112 residents were assisted with checking on the status of a previously filed application or got answers from FEMA on other questions.

She Fen Rong, a Red Hook West resident, applied for money to recover his family’s losses from all of their food spoiling after they lost power.  “We also had no hot water,” he said through a translator.  “My wife and I had to take cold showers and hand wash our clothes.”

Mr. Rong was one of the residents who received help in applying for the FEMA aid by making use of NYCHA’s Language Services Unit, which had staff on site and available by phone.  Mr. Rong and the FEMA volunteer assisting him patiently passed a phone back and forth between them while a NYCHA Chinese interpreter translated everything they said to each other.  “I am very satisfied with the process.  They were very helpful.  I am very appreciative,” he said.

By Eric Deutsch 
Dec. 14, 2012

NYCHA Digital Vans
How Do I Apply For Disaster Assistance?
Apply for FEMA disaster assistance