Developmentally disabled Red Hook residents find post-Sandy refuge in former convent - but they want to go home for Christmas

They won’t be home for Christmas — and that makes residents of a Red Hook group home for the developmentally disabled sad.

Flood damage from Superstorm Sandy forced them out of Visitation Residence on Richards St. Repairs to the house where some have lived since the 1970s likely won’t be finished until February.

“These are fragile lives turned upside down,” said Sister Kay Crumlish, executive director of Mercy Home, which operates Visitation.

Crumlish has set up temporary quarters for them in the nonprofit’s Fort Greene headquarters — which as a former convent luckily has lots of rooms.

The Red Hook residents’ caretakers came with them to their temporary housing; even their cook is with them. But they long to be back on Richards St. where they had their own bedrooms and neighbors knew their names.

“I love the house,” said one resident, Diana, and blew a kiss for emphasis.

"Home, home,” another resident, Linda said wistfully as she waited for supper to be served in Mercy Home’s board room, which has been turned into a living room and dining room for the storm-displaced.

Caretaker Sabrina White gave her a reassuring hug.

“A hurricane is hard for everybody — but for the developmentally disabled, change is really a problem,” White explained.

“We’re taking it one day at a time — that’s all we can do.”

Three empty administrative offices in the Willoughby Ave. headquarters have been converted to bedrooms with air mattresses, sleeping bags and a few beds Crumlish rustled up. With three residents per room some are finding it hard to get to sleep at night.

They had to leave Visitation because waters from Sandy’s storm surge filled the furnished basement to its 12-foot ceiling. The generator conked out in a matter of minutes.

Vans evacuated residents the next day.

“This is a big upheaval,” said Visitation’s resident manager Herma Mansfield. “They are restless; there’s an anxiety.”

To combat their distress she’s set up the same routines they had at home: 5 a.m. wakeup, bus pickup for educational programs starting at 6:40 a.m., dinner at 5:30 p.m., upstairs for bedtime prep at 8 p.m.

There will be a Yuletide tree in their temporary living room but it won’t make them miss their storm-damaged home any less.

“I want my Christmas there,” said Renee, a resident who is legally blind.

She can navigate every inch of their Red Hook house with ease but in the unfamiliar Willoughby Ave. building she needs assistance just to cross the room.

“It’s been very, very hard on her independence,” White said.

Visitation’s storm fix-up will cost Mercy Home at least $50,000 — from mold cleanup to replacing ruined washing machines.

“It’s a big proposition to handle,” said Sister Caroline Tweedy, Mercy Home’s chief development officer who’s doing fundraising to help cover repairs.

Visitation received a $10,000 grant from the Brooklyn Recovery Fund but the nuns don’t know how much money they’ll get from flood insurance or Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) assistance they requested.

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