Thursday, July 14, 2016

Client Services...The Road to Recovery!

By Stan Frank, American Red Cross

If your house or apartment burned down tomorrow and you lost everything, what would you do? Where would you go? How would you live? What would you need to recover your life? These are the questions Red Cross Client Services answers every day in New York City for victims of fires, floods, building vacates and other emergencies.

Chris Losavio, NYC Regional Casework Manager
Chris Losavio, Regional Casework Manager, oversees the Client Services Office located on the first floor of the midtown Manhattan headquarters of the Greater New York Red Cross. Chris joined the Red Cross as a Case Manager after Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012. When his contract was over, he worked as a Program Associate at Enterprise Community Partners. Chris rejoined the Red Cross in 2015 as Regional Casework Manager.

A graduate of Rutgers University with a major in Psychology, Chris has broad experience in all aspects of recovery and helping individuals move from helplessness to self-sufficiency. “Although what our responders do for residents in the immediate aftermath of a disaster is very important,” he says, “what we do after that is critical for their long-term recovery. What the Caseworkers do is the heart of what we do for those we serve.”

Chris manages a staff of three veteran caseworkers: Lilliam Rivera-Cruz, Patrick DeOssi and Meaghan Wood. Lilliam, who has more than 20 years of experience at the Red Cross, began working for the organization in 1993 in Brooklyn, then moved to the Queens office as Assistant Manager, and subsequently worked as a volunteer Service to the Armed Forces Caseworker and in the Emergency Communications Center in Manhattan. In 2005, she became a Client Caseworker. “My passion in life is to help others,” she said. “As a Caseworker, I come to work every day like it is my first day and I go home every night with the feeling I helped someone in need. There is no better feeling!”

The New York Client Services Team: Meaghan Wood, Lilliam Rivera-Cruz and Patrick DeOssi
Patrick DeOssi, a graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, began working as a volunteer in Logistics in 2009 at the Greater New York Headquarters. He became a “Jack-of-all-Trades” and did everything from setting up shelters for displaced disaster victims, to handling transportation needs for the Chapter, to organizing corporate events with volunteers from major companies such as American Express and Anheuser Busch. From there, he moved on to become a full-time Responder, and about a year ago began working as a Caseworker in Client Services. “My whole career has been dedicated to public service,” he said. “Working in Client Services gives me the satisfaction of helping people literally rebuild their lives after a disaster."

Meaghan Wood, a graduate of SUNY Purchase, joined the Red Cross in 2014 after working for Teach-For-America in North Carolina and serving in the Red Cross/AmeriCorps program for one year. In the AmeriCorps program, Meaghan gained hands-on experience as a Responder at the Greater New York Headquarters, and later trained other Responders in the field. In January 2015, she was deployed to Cape Cod where she did damage assessment after the massive snowstorm Juno devastated the Cape with 31” of snow and caused major coastal flooding. Two months later in March, when a gigantic gas explosion destroyed several buildings in New York’s East Village, Meaghan was called on to organize a reception center in a local library and set up a Client Assistance Center to handle emergency casework needs for dozens of displaced residents.

When someone comes into the Client Services office, the first thing Caseworkers do is review the case notes submitted by the Responders, who were first deployed to the scene of the disaster. They learn the details of the disaster, the condition of the residence, the number of displaced people, what financial assistance and temporary housing have already been provided to the individual, etc. Then, they meet privately, one-on-one with residents and assess their needs. If necessary, they utilize interpreters to translate for them. Primary needs typically include housing, clothing, food, mental health/health services and infant needs.

Housing is usually the first priority. On average the Red Cross is able to provide emergency housing for displaced residents in local hotels for two to three days. Caseworkers are then able to provide alternatives for more permanent lodging. One such option is to refer them to HPD, the NYC housing agency, which can make arrangements to temporarily place households in longer-term housing facilities. Partner organizations such as the Samaritan Village’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) are also able to assist families. Sometimes, caseworkers work with sympathetic apartment building owners to relocate their displaced tenants to other buildings which they own.

The caseworkers can also issue Client Assistance Cards which are debit cards that can be used to purchase clothing, food, household supplies, furniture, etc. If necessary, additional emergency assistance is also available via one-time emergency grants. Additionally, the Greater New York Red Cross works with various retailers who are able to sometimes donate merchandise to disaster victims. One example are Bob’s Discount Furniture and Ikea.

When a disaster such as a fire strikes, residents frequently lose all of their personal possessions such as their credit cards, drivers licenses, Social Security cards, birth certificates, citizenship papers, income tax information, banking records, immigration cards, veteran ID cards, etc. The Caseworkers provide displaced residents with information on how to recover such documentation. When needed, caseworkers will also help contact victims' families or relatives to keep them informed about their loved ones.

Mental health services may be helpful for people affected by disasters. Professionally-licensed Mental Health Volunteers are available (in person or by phone) in the Client Services office and in the field. As you can imagine, losing your home to a fire, flood or other disaster can be devastating and emotional reactions often result. If desired, Mental Health volunteers will listen confidentially to displaced residents and their families about effects of the disaster and discuss how they can best cope. Spiritual Care Workers and referrals for on-going emotional counseling can also be arranged. In addition to mental health services, Caseworkers can also provide vouchers for other disaster-related health needs, such as the purchase of eyeglasses, contact lenses, medications, etc.

Chris and his caseworkers are sometimes called upon to address recovery needs outside the New York area. Lilliam, for example, just returned from Texas where she was deployed for two weeks to help victims left homeless by the recent floods there. She was stationed in Houston where she was Co-Manager at a local service center. There she supervised local Caseworkers and other volunteers from all over the U.S. to ensure the recovery needs of affected families were met.

Client Services at the Red Cross is where disaster victims take the next step towards recovery. Thank you to Red Cross workers like Chris, Lilliam, Meghan and Patrick for ensuring that no one has to face this daunting process alone.

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