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Tenants struggling after blaze

Victor Foster, one of those tenants of the Neilson Avenue apartment building, said the city put him up in Harlem Ð a two-hour subway ride to his job in Rockaway Park."To me, it's unfair. Two hours to get to work?" said Foster, who was forced to buy a $200 cell phone following the blaze so he could keep in contact with his family in the borough. "They need to help me. Please, I need some help. ...This is crazy."Foster said he lost "an ice box full of food" in the fire, which he bought before the blaze erupted, and possibly two paintings worth $1,000 apiece along with a few $400 suits."I don't know what's salvageable," he said, nothing that the 101st Precinct told him they were unsure when he would be able to go back to his apartment to see what was lost.Gerald Smith, a 58-year-old tenant, criticized the city's handling of the situation. He said he opted to live with various relatives after staying a couple of days at the Westway Motor Inn near LaGuardia Airport, where he said he was charged for local calls and had to buy his own food. "We didn't get any accommodation," he said.An aide to U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) said she would look into the situation at the Westway after hearing about Smith's encounter at the motel.Some victims were also being housed by the city at a Brooklyn hotel."So far the city has given us nothing," Smith said, claiming Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office had not been in contact with the tenants."My issue right now is I need a place to live," he said. Smith gave a wry laugh when asked if he knew where he was staying Sunday night. "I'm going day by day," he said, noting that he was sleeping in different family members' homes each night because they had small children and might not always be room for him.But in addressing the Far Rockaway church, Meeks said he and the neighborhood's other elected officials were working to bring more stability for the homeless tenants. He said he could help expedite the process of getting new passports, Social Security cards and immigration assistance. Most of the tenants are immigrants.The church was collecting clothes for the survivors."I think people are coming together," Meeks said shortly after the service, which included reading a passage from the Book of Job. "They recognize what a terrible tragedy (it is) and they're trying to make sure people are whole again."He said the elected officials were working on finding new housing and getting the building's children back to school.Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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