I was finally getting myself established in my new home in a brand new city, knowing no one. For Christmas I had purchased a stereo system and had finally gotten a dinette table(someone had left chairs in the apartment before vacating it). I was listening to music and enjoying the fact that I was caught up on my rent and had paid the electric bill in full. I had just turned the heat off because it had gotten hot, however, I started to smell smoke and then to actually see it wafting through the apartment. I was not sure what was going on. I couldn’t cook and had already eaten my take-out, so it wasn’t coming from my apartment. It started getting thicker and I followed the smoke to my door. When I opened my door, thick smoke engulfed me. I thought, “oh God no!! We’re on fire in here!” I ran back into the apartment, grabbed my coat and purse, ran into the hallway screaming and yelling for people to get out, that we were on fire. I pulled the smoke alarm that was right outside my apartment door. This was at about 10:30p.m. I went door-to-door, coughing and banging on doors to wake people up. No one answered. I ran outside. There were people standing in front of the apartment building. I yelled at them to call the Fire Department. They just looked at me as though I was speaking a foreign language.
I ran down the stairs and across the alley and into a bar. I threw open the door and yelled for somebody to call the Fire Department. In the distance, I heard sirens approaching. I went back into the building because a couple had a baby in there. I made it to the first floor and pounded on the door. Before I had gone back into the building, I noticed that the entire roof was on fire. The Firemen found me on the floor next to the apartment door where I knew the baby lived. They must have picked me up and carried me outside. I remember trying to tell them about the baby. I was carried by ambulance to the hospital. I heard later that they had to break through the first floor apartment to get at the people and right afterwards, flames were seen coming out of the first floor apartment. The others were away for the holiday.
I didn’t know much else until the next day when I remember becoming fully cognizant and then screaming about the baby and the other tenants. A nurse told me that I was considered a ‘hero’ because I had saved everyone by alerting people and that even the apartment building next to mine had been evacuated due to water and smoke damage. I was so thankful, I cried. The staff at the hospital were so kind and then the Red Cross showed up. They took me to a hotel and told me that I could stay there for one night and after that I would have to make other arrangements. I was bewildered. “What arrangements?” I asked. “I’ve lost everything in a fire. I’m homeless and pratically broke. I thought your organization was ‘disaster relief’, well, this was a disaster!” The response was, “we’ll give you a voucher for $55.00 to get you some clothing and another voucher to McDonald’s to get food for the day. We’ve paid your hotel bill for the night. That is all we are required to do.”
I was not the only one to receive this treatment. I found out that there were 16 families that had been displaced in that fire. A team from a local news station had been down to interview us, but when I told them what the spokesperson for the Red Cross had told me, they did not believe me. Hell! I don’t blame them. I could hardly believe it myself.
The next day, myself and others who had been displaced by the fire finally met up at the laundromat that was near to where we had once lived. A man heard us talking about how we were being treated by the Red Cross and how I had had to beg them to let us stay at least one more night in the hotel. He told us to call another news station and tell them what was going on. I did. They came out and interviewed me and that night, it was on the 11:00pm news. The response was overwhelming. I was still exhausted when the phone began to ring. Ministers were in the lobby wanting to pray with me and trying to hand me money. People called and offered me clothing, a place to stay, rent free until I could get on my feet. The hotel switchboard had lit up like a Christmas tree. The next morning, the hotel parking lot needed traffic control, there were so many people trying to help us. Even the Red Cross unbent due to the publicity of our situation. But we no longer needed them. Good, kind people stepped up and stepped in when we could get hardly any help from them. When I was finally able to go out in public, homeless people would come up to me and say that they had seen me on tv and that I needed what they had begged all day for more than they did and tried to hand me their money. I couldn’t take it, but I thanked them all the same. This is one of the reasons why I will continue to bring the plight of the homeless to the forefront because they were willing to give up their meager offerings to me when an organization that was founded to help people in my circumstances couldn’t be bothered to do much of anything for someone who had lost everything in a fire and yet, the head of the Red Cross received a salary of $200,000.00 a year.
I had given to charities through payroll deduction for years and yet when I needed help due to a disaster, I was grudgingly issued 2 hotel night stays(the 2nd night I had to beg for), a $55.00 clothing voucher and a $15.00 voucher to McDonalds.
…and yes…the pain of life continues because I know that there are people who have lost everything in a disaster and who like me, thought that the so-called charitable organizations were there to help lend a hand and who are treated as I was and the others in that fire. I don’t know, maybe we were the wrong ‘complexion’ or in the wrong part of town, but to discriminate based on disaster is beyond the end of enough. I am just thankful that there were those who saw past what the Red Cross couldn’t and helped, were happy to help. Even those who were homeless were trying to help. They, are the ‘true’ heroes. Bless each and every one of them!