Non-profit New Moms is in need of extra volunteers and financial aid as flood damage sustained earlier this month prompted the temporary evacuation of 40 families living in the New Moms Transformation Center in Austin. All of those families have experienced homelessness in the past, making the removal from their apartments all the more painful, while work to repair the building drags on.
“We don’t want to retraumatize them with the instability of all of this,” said Laura Zumdahl, New Moms CEO and president. “But that is kind of the reality of the challenge at the moment, and of course, costs are mounting.”
The families were immediately removed from the building, following the severe storms and flash flooding July 2, and placed into hotels, all paid for by New Moms, the Austin- and Oak Park-based support agency for mothers aged 24 and under. The non-profit is providing the displaced families with food and essentials, cash assistance, transportation and ongoing support.
The damage to the building at 5317 W. Chicago Ave. goes beyond the typical mold remediation. The flooding had a domino effect, kicking off a series of different infrastructure problems. The heavy rainfall flooded the basement of the center, which serves as the non-profit’s headquarters, and that initial damage was exacerbated by an electrical fire that broke out shortly after.
To repair the electrical system, the building’s power had to be disconnected by the Chicago Fire Department and ComEd. This cut off electricity to the sump pump, and having taken in several inches of water, a water tank was dislodged in the pump room. The tank broke away from a pipe, and the basement was filled with over six feet of water, resulting in a “catastrophic failure of all systems in the building.” Computer servers were lost, and historical documents destroyed.
The building continues to be without power, as electricians and contractors work to mend the significant electrical damage, including an inoperable elevator and heating and air conditioning system, making the building uninhabitable at the moment.
The financial loss facing New Moms is expected to be as high as $500,000, with at least $100,000 in costs not covered by insurance. An insurance settlement has yet to be received and the final amount remains unclear. Immediate and essential support for the families, which insurance won’t cover, has already cost over $50,000 – and it’s still unclear as to when the families, whose possessions were thankfully not damaged, can move back into the building.
“We’re hoping that in the next week that’ll happen,” said Zumdahl. “It’s been a real challenge.”
Part of that challenge has been getting what is required to make the fixes. With so many buildings in the area affected by the flash floods, there was a shortage of available contractors. Once a firm was secured and the damage assessed, supply chain issues made it difficult to get the replacement parts needed to repair infrastructure systems within the building.
For these reasons, it has been hard to pin down a timeframe for when tenants can return, but the crews are moving as quickly as possible to get the building back up and running, working every weekend. Their electrician even had someone take a 24-hour trip to Nevada, drive all the way there and back to get a part because it was the fastest option, according to Zumdahl.
“They’ve really risen to the challenge, which we’re grateful for,” said Zumdahl.
With all the hard work already put in, Zumdahl expects the New Moms organization will still be in need of volunteers. Given that the agency’s needs keep changing, Zumdahl was unable to specify the type of assistance that will be asked of volunteers.
A group of volunteers helped with flood cleanup by moving stuff out of the building before professional cleaners arrived. Now that cleanup has already been taken care of, she anticipates families will need help moving back into the building. And as a nonprofit, New Moms relies on donations to carry out the mission of helping young mothers and their children.
“We won’t be able to do it without a community of support around us,” Zumdahl said.
To volunteer, please send an email to email@example.com. Donations can be made at www.newmoms.org/donate.