You Come Into This World with Nothing and You Leave with Nothing

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By Alice Kenny

Wincing as he walks, Donald Marcus, 70, surveys what is left of the eight bungalows he once rented out in Midland Beach, Staten Island, that provided affordable housing for friends and strangers.

“People live paycheck to paycheck,” he says, explaining why he rented out the one-bedroom homes just blocks from the beach for as little as $400 per month.

“I believe you come in this world with nothing and you leave with nothing.”

This is proving true for him.  Three of his bungalows destroyed by Superstorm Sandy have already been demolished by the city, including one where his tenant Jack Paterno, 65, drowned in the storm.

Two more, including the one he rented out to an elderly woman who shared her home with her mentally challenged brother so he would not have to live in an institution,  have been gutted right down to the salt-water soaked beams.

The final three he uses to demonstrate degrees of rebirth thanks to donations of time, materials and services he received by networking with everyone he meets, from the man he met that morning in line at McDonalds to the Catholic Charities Disaster Case Manager, MaryEllen Ferrer, who coordinates disaster recovery services for him.

Still, Mr. Marcus recognizes that his days of providing housing to the down and out are gone forever.  His former printing business up the street on Midland Ave that for 38 years printed everything from Pops Baseball cards to politicians’ bulletins and CYO flyers washed away in the storm as well.

“Not one dry sheet of paper was left,” he says.

Seventy years old, with no flood insurance and ineligible for FEMA loans to restore the bungalos because FEMA helps with primary residences, Mr. Marcus asks rhetorically “what am I going to do?  Start over?”

Catholic Charities cannot replace his former life, his Disaster Case Manager Valeriya Osipova says.  But it can help him get back on his feet, she adds.

As a disaster case manager, Ms. Osipova serves as advocate and expediter for Mr. Marcus and others whose lives have been upended by Sandy.  She created an individualized disaster recovery plan to advocate for access to needed services, coordinate benefits, and make referrals that range from obtaining sheetrock for Mr. Marcus’ houses to linking him to connecting him to volunteers to help repair his home.

Grateful for the assistance, Mr. Marcus tries to remain upbeat.  After all, Superstorm Sandy left his own home on Augusta Avenue in Staten Island undamaged, he said.  And his wife of 45 years who fell, broke her femur bone and was put on life support two months after the storm, is now recovering at home.

Yet the reality, he says, cannot be escaped.

“This is going to happen again,” Mr. Marcus says.  “Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow.  But again.”

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