Sunset Park community members help fire victims

April 1, 2011 Heather Chin
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After an arsonist torched a four-story apartment building inSunset Park two weeks ago, the community united to rescue theinjured and suddenly homeless residents.

Between 80 and 100 people – most Chinese immigrants – weredisplaced by the fast-moving fire that forced several of them tojump out of windows. The American Red Cross then stepped in,helping to place four of the six families who lost their homes inhotels and assisting them in relocation efforts.

However, when the landlord would not provide confirmation thatthose displaced had been residents and the building was too damagedfor them to return to salvage utility bills or other documentation,this aid was in danger of disappearing.

So on Tuesday, March 15, about 20 victims arrived at CouncilmemberSara González’s office at 56th Street and Fifth Avenue to seekassistance. Her Asian liaison, Jason Chui, told the families thatthey could access city aid services regardless of their immigrationstatus, thanks to legislation passed in 2003 preventing cityemployees from releasing personal and confidential informationunless required by law.

In providing assistance, González was joined by Paul Mak and theBrooklyn Chinese-American Association, as well as Deputy InspectorJesus Raul Pintos of the 72nd Precinct and representatives of OurLady of Perpetual Help Church on 59th Street and FifthAvenue.

While Pintos updated the residents on the status of their formerapartments, which are still considered a crime scene, Mak andGonzalez worked with various city departments and the Red Cross toextend housing arrangements and arrange for ongoing accommodationsthrough the Department of Housing Preservation and Development(HPD).

Our Lady of Perpetual Help also offered an apartment to shelterseveral victims for two nights, until an MTA bus could be providedto transport those not in hospitals or with family members tohotels and then to HPD’s offices for further relocation aid.

Nonetheless, according to both Gonzalez and Mak, the community willcontinue working with the victims and local hospitals such asLutheran Medical Center and Staten Island University Hospital toensure that those burned and injured in the blaze continue toreceive care.

In the meantime, back at the burned building on 510 61st Street,contractors and engineers have begun examining the site foranticipated repairs.

The fire was reported at 5:12 a.m. on March 13, and took more than140 firefighters just over two hours to get under control.

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