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Homeless fire victims attempt to regroup

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The six-story apartment building at 10-56 Neilson St. that many of them called home for years now is a skeleton of what it was just a week ago, seemingly held up by a thick coating of ice left by fire hoses at work more than 12 hours to put out the blaze that engulfed it. According to the Red Cross, 108 adults and 60 children are now left to sift through the ashes of their lives and try to summon the strength to move on. "We didn't even have time to think. We just grabbed whatever we could and ran out," said Shelby Little, a tenant. "What do I do? I'm homeless now." The Red Cross said most of the families are now being sheltered at the Westway Motor Inn in East Elmhurst and a Holiday Inn Express in Brooklyn while the organization works in tandem with the city to get them back on their feet. Red Cross spokesman Larry Geiger said the organization is providing crisis assessment and counseling as well as offering the families food, $240 debit cards. It will pay for their rooms in hotels as long as is necessary.State Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-St. Albans) said long-term housing is the highest priority for the families, and he has been working with U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) and the Department of Housing Preservation and Development to expedite the process. HPD Spokeswoman Amanda Pitman said the city expects to have all of the families who apply in one of their four short-term housing facilities by the end of the week while more permanent housing is sought.Both Smith and Sanders have also been working with the Department of Education to negotiate school bus services for the 60 children currently in housing limbo as a result of the fire. Meeks said he has opened up a dialogue with the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in an effort to extradite important documents that may have been lost in the fire, such as green cards, state IDs and passports. Meeks said Tuesday night that the process of rebuilding the lives of families displaced by the fire is largely just beginning and will be challenging, but he is confident nonetheless that it will be seen through quickly and effectively. "There are so many human needs that need to be looked after," he said. "We're going to do all that we can."Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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