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Sandy Evacuees and Hosts Struggle to Maintain Patience, Hospitality

By Emily Frost | November 8, 2012 11:19am | Updated on November 8, 2012 3:57pm

UPPER WEST SIDE — As one of the few places left unscathed by Hurricane Sandy, the Upper West Side has become a haven for displaced New Yorkers and visitors in the wake of the superstorm.

But the limited square-footage of Manhattan real estate coupled with the strain of a post-storm displacement that for many has no end in sight, have combined to leave guests and hosts struggling to maintain a fragile peace. 

"They’re going through a crisis. It’s not as if you’re just being kind and hospitable. You have to put your own needs and thoughts aside," said Shelly Fine, 63, an educational consultant from the Upper West Side, who hosted his wife's relatives for seven days in their three-bedroom apartment, after the couple's Long Island home lost power.

The couple left briefly, but are planning to return for an undetermined amount of time, he said.

"We don’t know when this situation will terminate," Fine said, adding that he also converted their living room into a safe space for the couple to hang out for some private time.

Fine said taking in houseguests after a disaster was a whole different scenario from the usual two-day visitor rule and required extra care to maintain the peace.

He and his wife spend a lot of energy preparing food for his guests, "cooking good meals, warm meals; having nougat chocolate almond bars around, nosh that they would feel just comfortable taking."

Barbara Fight, who is in her 50s and lives on West 75th Street, said she hosted her 27-year-old nephew for four nights after his Financial District lobby was rendered uninhabitable by a flood.

She said it was a tight squeeze in her 1-bedroom apartment, where he crashed on the couch, but the process helped her get a deeper understanding of what hurricane victims were experiencing as well as tightening the bond between them.

"Because the Upper West Side was so safe, living through what he was going through downtown, and his apartment — it brought it closer to me. It brought me more empathy," she said.

"[And] It’s not that often that a nephew and an aunt get to spend one-on-one time together without the parents. [The houseguest experience] definitely gave us a bond."

Fight was initially concerned the shower and bathroom schedule would cause issues. However, "what I thought would be awkward was not awkward, one drop," she said.

It helped that the Upper West Side's restaurant and bar scene was hopping, giving the two relief from the tight space. And her nephew was a great houseguest — bringing food with him, being neat and considerate, and not making much noise as he worked on his laptop every day.

And, "he’s a good talker," said Fight, who said they watched the news, TBS, and the Adam Sandler comedy Big Daddy.

Another Upper West Sider, who asked not to be named, said he learned the hard way that hosts should be extra careful not to complain about petty daily annoyances while hosting those whose problems run much deeper.

His guests, whose home suffered major damage, got snippy when he complained when his office closed a few days after the storm.

"Keep complaints to a minimum," he said. "People don’t want to hear that you’re having a rough time."  

Still, hosts can only tolerate so much, said another Upper West Side resident who hosted guests from Europe who had to stay a few days after their planned departure was postponed and they couldn't extend their stay in a hotel.

The resident, who also asked that his name not be used to avoid offending his guests, called it "an unhappy, uncomfortable situation for everyone, including us." 

He said his guests created a chaotic home situation, to which they were oblivious, and the guests paid no heed to his space.

They were sleeping on the "couch and floor ... [there were] crowded bathrooms, bags strewn around."

Tom Chao, who lives in Midtown East, said he got calls from two couples from the East Village asking to take shelter in his apartment after the storm.

They came over to take showers and log in to his internet. He passed out Halloween candy and other snacks, and said "spirits were good."

He said his friends came with a bottle of wine, which they never had a chance to drink, because they were all working. One of them returned the next day, spending five hours at his home using his wi-fi and using the house as a warm, dry, powered home base.

Fine said everyone should remember that most considerate houseguests are even less enthusiastic about their imposed exile than those hosting them — so he encouraged them not to worry about treading too lightly.

"Forgo some of the more 'guest of the house' niceties," he advised. "If people are offering you things that are going to help your situation, accept them. It will make the host feel good too."