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Mamaroneck Mother, Son Still Can't Go Home

MAMARONECK, N.Y. -- Most students can't wait for the final bell to ring and go home, but Michael Conaway can't go home.

Since Tropical Storm Irene hit Westchester weeks ago, the five-year-old kindergartener's family has been living in shelters while the landlord works on their Howard Avenue home, which has been left uninhabitable by flood damage.

The family of three has bounced around since the American Red Cross shelter at the Mamaroneck High School closed. Monday, they moved into the Coachman Family Center, a 90-day transitional shelter in White Plains for homeless and low-income families.

"Michael cries whenever we go back," said Conaway's mother, Julienne, who didn't want to leave the area. "It's just like a nightmare in there."

Julienne, who lived a few minutes away from Mamaroneck Avenue School, now has to drive Michael to school from the shelter.

The Conaways are one of two Mamaroneck families living in the shelter, which falls under the umbrella of WestHab. But there are many more community members displaced by the storms.

"Right now, we still have a number of families that have not been able to return to their homes because of issues with foundation and environmental conditions," said Dan Sarnoff, assistant village manager. Sarnoff added, “There are people who have been able to find alternate locations or stay with family."

Between 30 and 35 people are displaced but doubling with friends or staying with family, said Zoey Colon, executive director of the Hispanic Resource Center.

Colon's organization has worked closely with the CAP Center, Washingtonville Housing Alliance and the Mamaroneck school district to identify displaced community members and show them that they have resources available to them.

After the Red Cross shelter in Mamaroneck closed, the school district bussed those still in need of assistance to the WestHELP shelter in Greenburgh, Colon said. That shelter has since been shut down by the county.

At a Sept. 14 meeting of those organizations, and others, a local coalition was formed to help those still in need.

"A lot of the local non-for-profits in the village got together to identify ways to reach out and help individuals who were immediately impacted and impacted on a long-term basis," said Sarnoff, who attended the meeting, along with Richard Slingerland, village manager.

FEMA was also in attendance, making disaster relief funds available to businesses and individuals in the form of grants for temporary housing and essential repairs.

Jim Killoran, executive director of Habitat for Humanity in Westchester, isn't waiting on federal or state aide. His organization bought Michael a blue winter jacket, provided Julienne with a used laptop and even took the family out to dinner Wednesday night.

Killoran's team of volunteers has also helped many of Conaway's neighbors.

"We have donated sheetrock and insulation, as well as generators, pumping out water, contractor bags, gloves, Clorox, cleaning supplies, tools and more," he said.

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