March 12, 2015
In remembrance of the first anniversary of the East Harlem building collapse, First Lady Chirlane McCray joined Speaker of the New York City Council Melissa Mark-Viverito and officials from the Mayor’s Fund to present a certificate of recognition and appreciation to our programs.
Manhattan Community Program Director Barbara Ellis and Safe Horizon Counseling Center Senior Director Ruth Forero accepted the honor for providing speedy response and imperative crisis services to the community in the surrounding area.
Responding Swiftly to Crisis
The event recounted the shocking turn of events on March 12, 2014 when a gas explosion destroyed two five-story buildings by 116th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem, and damaged several adjacent buildings. Tragically, eight residents lost their lives that morning. The collapse left residents and community members alike in shock, disrupting hundreds of lives, and damaging the livelihood of dozens of New Yorkers.
Within two days, Safe Horizon was engaged as a partner by the Mayor’s Fund to Advance the City of New York to administer a victims’ assistance fund from our Manhattan-Bronx Community Program. Staff of various backgrounds that included trauma experts, social workers and case managers tended to the needs of those who lost loved ones, were displaced from their homes, or suffered damage to their furniture and belongings.
“Safe Horizon has deep experience in trauma response and supporting individuals and communities following disastrous events” Juanito Vargas commented. “Although we typically work with victims of abuse, we were able to apply our expertise to provide both emotional and practical support to survivors of the East Harlem building collapse.”
Supporting Victims of the Building Collapse
In just 14 weeks, Safe Horizon provided more than 1, 000 counseling sessions and advocacy to more than 100 households, and distributed more than $270, 000 in direct aid. These resources were able to support various critical needs that ranged from enabling the burial of loved ones in a foreign country to buying essentials such as clothing, groceries, and furniture. Families who needed to relocate, were provided with rent deposit support. Our team worked closely with city agencies and local non-profits to advocate for the residents’ needs including Union Settlement and Little Sisters of the Assumption (LSA) Family Health Service.
“The whole crew provided a range of assistance to those who suffered various kinds of trauma from the event, from home damage to the death of a loved one, ” said Barbara Ellis. “I am most proud of the fact that, despite the challenges, we all rose to the occasion. I think we did some extraordinary things.”