Code problem

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Sun-Herald.com, originally uploaded by rsdscrpsnews.

Code problem

08/13/06

PUNTA GORDA — In the two years after Hurricane Charley destroyed her home, Alice Caldwell has faced health problems, depression, financial hardship and enough documentation to paper the walls of her house, once she begins rebuilding it.

On top of that, this month, the 63-year-old faced a Charlotte County code compliance enforcement action.

On July 11, a code compliance officer cited her for having a large, steel cargo container “stored in the vacant unimproved property prior to the construction of the principal use,” along with “outside storage of miscellaneous items.”

The county code compliance office and Caldwell are now working on a resolution of the violations.

Caldwell said, despite her struggles, she feels “blessed” to have benefited from numerous charities that have supported her over the past 24 months and soon, will begin rebuilding her house.

But, Caldwell’s experience shows how, even with a substantial network of charitable organizations, rebuilding for many has proven to be a daunting, protracted task.

“It’s been humbling because you have to ask for help when you’re used to being independent,” said Caldwell. “It’s a lesson in patience. It’s a lesson that you can’t let the anger take over.”

Assessing the damage

Caldwell, with her three children in tow, first arrived in Punta Gorda from Michigan in 1980. She came to take care of her retired parents, who lived in a small house built around a 1954 travel trailer at 6026 Quince St., south of Punta Gorda.

Her parents passed away over the next eight years and Caldwell and her children moved in.

The house was mortgage-free. It wasn’t assessed at a high value, so insurance didn’t seem necessary, she said.

Caldwell worked as a nurse for Charlotte Regional Medical Center for some eight years, until she injured herself on the job.

She twisted her arm while lifting a patient and suffered an “entrapped nerve.” She has since been diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a disorder that stems from the trauma.

“I still deal with chronic pain and symptoms from the RSD from time to time,” Caldwell said.

She has lived on a disability check of less than $800 per month ever since.

Caldwell was out of town when Hurricane Charley struck. She returned two days later to find much of her town severely damaged, including her house.

The windows were broken and the rain had soaked the interior, she said.

There was no electricity for days, so Caldwell cooked on a barbecue grill.

Caldwell received emergency money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But, after evacuating for several more hurricane threats in the next two months, and starting hurricane repairs on her house, the money was soon gone, she said.

Then, county building inspectors determined that her house was “65 percent damaged.” The determination meant Caldwell would have to rebuild to modern codes.

The repairs would be more costly than building a new house, she said.

Then, the chest pains began. Caldwell was one of the first patients checked into a local hospital’s emergency room after it shut down for a few weeks due to hurricane damage.

She managed the health problems with medications. But, she was becoming immobilized with depression, she said.

Even the task of writing a letter requesting assistance became difficult.

“I really struggled with that,” she said. “The depression controls you to the point you don’t know where to go.”

Hope and Recovery

About that time, a volunteer from Project Hope knocked on her door. Project Hope helps people recover from disasters.

The volunteer helped her assess her situation and identify the next steps. She then began participating in Project Recovery, a counseling program offered by Charlotte Community Mental Health.

A Project Recovery counselor helped Caldwell establish a plan — to seek assistance from an array of churches and organizations.

“You become knowledgeable and you do what you have to do — with a different attitude,” she said.

The Lions Club helped her get a pair of eyeglasses. The Sacred Heart Catholic Church, the First Baptist Church of Punta Gorda and South Biscayne Baptist Church provided food and cash.

“I know that a lot of my help came from God,” Caldwell said. “God put a lot of these people in my path because I was crying out.”

In early 2005, Caldwell applied to the Interfaith/Interagency Network of Charlotte County for help building her house. She also applied for a Home Again grant through the Meridian Community Services Group to pay for the building materials.

The Interfaith/Interagency Network is “a nonprofit organization trying to assist fellow Charlotte County residents to come up out of the rubble and get full recovery,” said Judy Chardon, the group’s executive director.

Since the hurricane, group has rebuilt two houses and has three houses to build in the near future. The agency has also assisted 96 clients who either had no insurance or not enough insurance to repair houses.

The agency has also assisted 736 people to date, by providing services from advice to volunteer labor. It also has coordinated some 1,400 volunteers who conducted 40,000 hours of labor.

Rebuilding can take a long time because of the array of funding sources involved. Information in applications must be verified and reviewed.

The funding must be confirmed before the construction begins so hurricane survivors aren’t left with an unfinished house, Chardon said.

“There’s so many variables, it’s impossible to give you a reason for every (delay),” she said. “If it was easy, it would have been done already.”

Caldwell’s rebuilding project, for example, hit a snag when Caldwell discovered that the 1954 trailer built into her house had never been accounted for in her parents’ probate cases. That snag took four months to resolve, she said.

Meanwhile, Caldwell rented the cargo container as a cost-effective storage solution.

The steel containers, which are officially known as “sea to land cargo units,” are not permitted in any zone in the county, said Code Compliance Officer Tracey Jewell.

But, she said her supervisor has agreed to allow Caldwell more time to remove the container because she has demonstrated a specific plan to rebuild.

Caldwell still must clean up or move indoors the miscellaneous items in her yard. The items include dishware that Caldwell sells in yard sales.

The items also include shingles that IINCC has brought to the lot in preparation for building her home.

“I feel like the county hasn’t given people enough time to recover,” Caldwell said. “Instead of coming after you, they should be asking, ‘What can we do to help?'”

You can e-mail Greg Martin at gmartin@sun-herald.com.

By GREG MARTIN

Staff Writer

Click Here For The Original Article Online

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