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Twin Parks Fire Victims Claim That Donations Are Still Owed, a Year Later

$4.58 million was allocated for cash assistance to Twin Parks fire victims, with only $1.65 million distributed directly to residents

Amir Khafagy

Jan 09, 2023

Bronx, NY USA January 10, 2022. NYC Mayor and other local elected officials held a press conference to update the media on the Bronx five alarm fatal fire. Photo: Steve Sanchez/Shutterstock

A year has passed since Nikki Campbell, 46, lost her apartment and everything she owned in the 9-alarm Twin Parks fire that left 17 of her neighbors dead. Since that fatal day, the single mother of six teenagers has struggled to put the pieces of her life back together.

“We are just trying to rebuild anyway we can,” she said. “We have been suffering for months.”

In the weeks immediately after the fire, millions of dollars were raised to help the now-homeless families, many of whom are immigrants. Governor Kathy Hochul pledged $2 million in aid that would provide tenants with case management services, personal property replacement, and rental assistance.

In January 2022, the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, a city-run non-profit agency controlled by Mayor Adams, was able to raise $2.5 million for the former tenants, which included funds from celebrities like Bronx-native rappers Cardi B and Fat Joe, who raised $1 million for the Mayor’s Fund last March.  

Yet, a year later, Twin Parks fire victims say they have only seen a fraction of the money that was raised on their behalf. Several families say they received only a $10,000 debit card in March which amounts to just five months of rent for an average one-bedroom apartment in the Bronx. They are calling on the Mayor’s office to tell them where the rest of the money raised went and how it was spent. The majority of the money was directed to BronxWorks, a city contractor that provides services for Bronx residents around education and homelessness, among others.

The mayor’s office says that of the $3 million allocated for cash assistance to families, only $1.65 million has been distributed so far, including $10,000 debit cards, $2,250 in aid immediately after the fire, as well as additional aid given to individual families on a case-by-case basis. The remaining $1.35 million for cash assistance is expected to be distributed to families by March after BronxWorks conducts an IRS-required needs-based assessment of each family. The City didn’t make it clear what exactly would an IRS-required needs-based assessment look like nor did they point to the particular IRS regulation.

In January, the mayor’s office said all of the donated money would go directly to the families. According to the Adams administration, BronxWorks used a portion of the money to hire a program manager, a senior case manager, a program assistant, and five case managers to assist the families in applying for SNAP and HEAP benefits as well as providing programs such as ESL classes and job training. 

“There are 120 units in my building; $10,000 per family doesn’t even scratch the surface of $4.4 million,” Campbell said. “Not to sound greedy or anything but this money was raised for us to rebuild, it wasn’t raised for whatever they are spending it on.”

BronxWorks declined to comment stating that all media requests related to the Twin Parks fire are to be directed to the mayor’s office, per their protocol.

To keep her family fed, Campbell has been dipping into her dwindling savings to make ends meet.

“I have six teenagers,” she said. “Imagine trying to feed six kids three times a day in the street.”

Campbell, who was living with her children for most of the last year in city-funded motels has since found a place to live on her own. 

Also read: Pregnant, Sick, Homeless and Afraid: Bronx Fire Survivors Say the City is Not Doing Enough

Yadhira Rodriguez, who gave birth to her third son in the months after the fire, also says that the $10,000 in aid she has received doesn’t come close to helping rebuild her life. 

“[The money], it’s nothing, that’s what I keep saying. But hey, they don’t want to give us the money,” she said. Rodriguez believes the City failed to communicate with the tenants well.  

“The City has not actually collaborated as they should have, that’s how I feel,” she said. “Six months after the fire there were still people in the shelters. Thank God I have a whole village praying and doing stuff so that we don’t only depend on the City. But what happened to my neighbors who only have the City?”

Vanessa Cunningham, who lived on the 4th floor of Twin Parks, agrees 

“Let me tell you something about the City,” she said. “When the lights flashed and all the cameras went out, so did they.”

A representative for the Mayor’s office said that 42 of the 154 families made homeless by the fire chose to return to Twin Parks, with the rest all currently rehoused. They also said that the Mayor’s Fund has raised $4.58 million in funds for the affected families. 

In March 2022, after Documented reported that the mayor’s fund had only distributed 10 percent of the $2.5 million that was first raised, the mayor announced an additional $3 million would be made available to the former Twin Parks residents.

Also read: Immigrant Drivers Fined by New York TLC Police in Sting Operations

According to the mayor’s office, of the $4.58 million raised, $580,000 was spent on emergency hotels, provision of three meals a day, funeral costs, and stipends for families in hotels. The rest of the $4 million, which consisted of $3 million in cash assistance and $1 million in casework and wraparound services, was allocated to BronxWorks.

“Just nine days into my tenure as mayor, the Twin parks fire struck a horrific tragedy that took the lives of 17 New Yorkers and affected hundreds more families,” Mayor Adams said recently. “As we approach the one-year anniversary of the fire, I’m keeping the Twin Parks fire victims and their loved ones in my thoughts and want them to know the city will always have their back.”

Throughout her life, Nikki Campbell has always maintained a positive spirit, but her experience dealing with city bureaucracy since the fire has left her disillusioned and abandoned. 

“I feel that pretty much the attitude during this whole thing is that the left hand never knows what the right hand is doing,” she said. “Nobody ever has any answer or solutions, it’s just been ‘okay guys figure out what you can’.”

Amir Khafagy

Amir Khafagy is an award-winning New York City-based journalist. He is currently a Report for America corps member with Documented. Much of Amir's beat explores the intersections of labor, race, class, and immigration.




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