Jose Jimenez just wants it to be the way it used to be. Spending time with his 10-year-old son every other weekend during his visitation time; taking him out for “movie night,” helping him with his homework, reading Bible passages with him.
All of that was disrupted on Sept. 28 at 9201 Kennedy Blvd. in North Bergen, when a five-alarm fire damaged his apartment, forcing him to leave.
“Right now I’m staying with friends,” he said last week. “I don’t have a set place. I’m hopping from one place to another.”
Life has been hard since the fire, with the single father originally staying at hotels in North Bergen and Jersey City, relying on Red Cross and other contributions to survive, and needing clothing donations. But the toughest part is how it has affected his time with his son, Nicholas.
“I have him every other weekend, so that’s throwing my whole program off a lot,” Jimenez said. “Spending the time with him, and our regular routines every other weekend, have been affected.
“We’re grateful. We’re living.” -- Ernestina Jimenez
Jimenez hopes to find a one-bedroom apartment in the area and get back to some semblance of normalcy.
He added, “Especially now, it’s colder. It’s not as easy.”
Ernestina Jimenez (no relation) feels the same frustration. She and husband Mauricio Arbelaez have also been displaced since Sept. 28. Although they never went to a hotel, they have also bounced from friends’ to friends’ places. She said her situation is tough, because she survived polio and relies on a wheelchair to move around.
The two things she wants most now are to reenter her former apartment to pick up some of her belongings and to find a new place to live.
“After the fire, I haven’t been able to get in,” Jimenez said. “I want to get in and get our stuff. We got out with nothing.”
Secondary to the reacquiring of possessions is finding a new place to lay down her roots.
“We’ve tried to move into a new apartment, but it’s taken a while,” she said. Complicating matters for her, she said, is that she needs to find Section 8 (public assistance) available housing, so it must match for her on two levels. She has a positive outlook, though, and stays optimistic.
“We’re grateful,” she said. “We’re living. The American Red Cross has helped us. People have been very nice.”
Palisadium Realty of West New York is working to help her find a new place to reside.
Victims of the fire may soon be turning the corner. Local groups that helped at the time are still lending their assistance.
Township still helping
North Bergen is still attempting to relocate families.
“The township has helped about 20 residents find new apartments by working with local landlords and Realtors,” said township spokesman Philip Swibinski.
And the effort continues for others still looking.
“We have property owners in town that have offered [other] apartments for rent,” said Janet Castro, North Bergen health director. “Realtors are waiving their fees to help these people.”
The trust fund set up by her department has already raised more than $5,000, and the township is still taking donations of toiletries and non-perishable food items by appointment (201-392-2084) at is Tonnelle Avenue municipal complex.
NHCAC lending assistance
Like the township, the North Hudson Community Action Corporation (NHCAC) has assisted, and continues to assist, the fire victims.
Along with the township and Red Cross, the NHCAC originally helped place 27 families in hotels for two weeks after the fire.
“Most of the others found places to live, with family and friends,” said Joan Quigley, chief executive officer.
NHCAC then provided rental assistance – either a security deposit or first month’s rent – to five families, with another three expected to be helped upon their completion of paperwork.
Structure may be renovated
The situations for both Jimenez families may change soon, and in ways they may not have expected.
The Kennedy Boulevard building owner has submitted an engineering report declaring that the structure is safe to renovate, according to Swibinski, and North Bergen's engineer reviewed the findings and agreed.
“The next step is there are some immediate safety hazards that have to be fixed before the building can be opened to the residents so they can retrieve their belongings,” he said on Nov. 5. “Right now the building is still sealed up, but we expect it to be reopened to residents within a week or so.”
When that happens, the Health Department will contact the residents and arrange a time for them to enter the building with a police escort, according to Swibinski. After that the building's renovations will begin, with a goal of allowing the residents to move back in. There is no timetable for the project's completion.
“All of these efforts are in addition to the assistance Mayor [Nicholas] Sacco and the township offered in the immediate aftermath of the fire, by organizing relief efforts and paying for hotel rooms for displaced families,” Swibinski said. “It was a collaborative effort that really shows the strength of this community and how it is able to rally together to help people in need.”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.