Merriss Morris and Merline Coke
By Alice Kenny
Merline and Howard Coke have been cobbling together make-shift solutions to keep their home livable and their home daycare business functioning ever since Hurricane Sandy slammed the house they rent in Yonkers nearly a year ago. Hurricane Sandy tore off shingles from its roof and flooding water soaked sheet-rocked walls and wooden floors. The house began to shift and sink. Damages were determined to be so severe that their landlord filed a claim with his insurance company for $137,000.
Yet now, as the one-year anniversary of the Superstorm approaches, no significant repairs have been made to the house. This has left the Cokes in a Catch 22. To afford to move, the Cokes need income from the daycare business that Ms. Coke operates on their rental home’s first floor. But families have hesitated to send their children to the daycare center until it is fully repaired. Meanwhile, Mr. Coke’s income in building services barely covers the family’s expenses. And their savings are nearly depleted.
The Cokes did what they could to shore the house up from the inside. They dried sodden floors, replaced sheetrock and painted walls and ceilings. But the roof remains damaged and the house continues to shift. So repaired walls and ceilings crack and floors tilt.
Unfamiliar and uncomfortable with asking for help, the Cokes did not contact Catholic Charities Disaster Case Management until May. Unfortunately, this was one month past FEMA’s deadline to apply for assistance with rent and money to move. Undeterred, Catholic Charities Disaster Case Manager Merris Morris assisted the family with applying for and appealing FEMA’s determination. To help them move, Ms. Morris helped them successfully apply for funding from the Westchester Department of Social Services, the Bridge Program and the United Way. Catholic Charities also gave the Cokes a $500 gift card to help purchase clothes and supplies for their two teenage children plus the two-year old nephew they have raised since birth.
“It’s tough when you’re in the middle, when you’re not on welfare but don’t earn enough to own your own home,” Ms. Morris says. “These are hardworking people just trying to get back their life.”
Now six children – all age four and under – participate in Ms. Coke’s daycare center, sampling stacks of primary-colored plastic toys and following posted schedule for playtime, learning, naps and meals. Toddlers follow and are quickly cuddled by Ms. Coke as she walks from room to room.
Finding an affordable place to move, however, remains difficult. Her family, Ms. Coke said, “is packed and ready to go…but there is nowhere to go.” Their search to find a house they can afford with an accessory apartment a landlord will allow for use as a daycare center has, so far, proven unsuccessful.
Their disaster case manager has spoken with realtors and received Catholic Charities’ commitment to help the family with moving expenses once they find a new home.