There's a lot of talk post-Sandy about adapting to a new normal. But what does that look like if you are now living in a hotel or on the pull-out at your in-laws?
"When I read the papers, it seems like the emergency is over," said Donna Blaze, CEO of Eatontown-based Affordable Housing Alliance.
But what Blaze and her colleagues see when they visit folks in Sea Bright or Union Beach is a prolonged disaster morphing into a whole new set of problems for people displaced from their homes and jobs and every comfort they once took for granted.
This is a critical time in the recovery process, where many in the area have moved on in their minds and the immediate needs seem gone with the debris trucked out to landfills.
"Housing is absolutely the greatest and biggest need," she said. "It's only because we have such a cooperative community that you don't see it."
The reality Blaze said, is that more than a month out from the storm, families crashing at friend's and family's homes are starting to wear out their welcome and relationships are becoming strained.
Stories about housing units at Fort Monmouth being offered at a fraction of previous estimates mystifies Blaze when she sees the number of people displaced.
A team from NeighborWorks America, the AHA's parent organization, and Mississippi-based group, Hope, came last week to tour the area with Blaze, to assess the needs and equip Blaze and her staff with a plan to help the people of Monmouth and Ocean counties.
The tour they said was aimed at putting "real faces onto the problem you are reading about."
Bill Stallworth, of Hope Community Development Agency, came with the hard-learned lessons from Katrina, where the organization was born. From his experience he said he developed a timeline and recovery framework that says, "This is the kinds of needs people will have at different stages."
"The people of the New York-area don't have to go through the things the people of the gulf coast went through," Stallworth said.
But, Stallworth cautioned, "Each day you delay in doing so will add almost a month of recovery time."
NeighborWorks America is a community development organization with a network of 235 independent community organizations such as AHA and Hope.
NeighborWorks CEO Eileen Fitzgerald, who also was on the tour, said her organization helps its member groups offer practical solutions such as creating escrow accounts for families where they can deposit storm assistance and insurance money. "So they won't be tempted to use it for life needs."
The plan is a work in progress, but right now Blaze said AHA is looking to form classes for homeowners on how to rebuild, like how to navigate the planning and zoning process in their town or how to choose a contractor.
"We know what you should have on your checklist," she said.
She also hopes to create a resource center, possibly in conjunction with FEMA's disaster recovery centers to offer AHA services like counseling for housing issues. AHA also specializes in helping those with the least resources: those who don't speak English, are elderly or disabled.
AHA is looking to add caseworkers to handle the influx of clients who will need counseling specific to rebuilding or relocating.
"We do housing," Blaze said. "We'll walk you through the process."
Rebuilding your home would be a daunting process on any day, but when the documents you need to get assistance have washed away with your car, your fridge and your sense of security, the situation becomes crushing.
"Everything gets exasperated," she said.
Affordable Housing Alliance has been helping people get safe and affordable housing since 1991.
Working in the aftermath of the disaster, Blaze said, is just an extension of what the group does every day. "We know what questions to ask. It's some place to go where people care," she said, "and we answer the telephone."
If you need help navigating the rebuilding or relocation process, call AHA at (732) 389-2958 or visit www.housingall.org.