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Catholic Charities Releases Report To Community On Cohoes Fire Assistance

Cohoes city councilor Steve Napier shared this photo to Facebook.
Steve Napier

In January 2018 Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany was asked by the City of Cohoes to provide disaster case management services to help survivors of the fire that devastated much of downtown Cohoes. The organization released a report Thursday.

The man blamed for starting the major fire last year that devastated much of downtown Cohoes was sentenced to a year in the Albany County Correctional Facility on Tuesday.  Authorities say 51-year-old John Gomes was trying to forge a sword in a barrel in his backyard on November 30, 2017 when embers from the fire spread beyond Remsen Street. More than two dozen buildings were destroyed or damaged.  Several residents were left homeless. The city has been in recovery mode since.

Catholic Charities spokesman Paul McAvoy:   "There was $106,000 raised with three major fundraisers, and then additional funds kept coming in, once the news stories were still out there and people were still seeing just how bad the damage was. In total, there was $119,785 raised, and that's how much was also spent on helping survivors of the fire with things like food, furniture, household goods, rental assistance and clothing.”

Working from lists provided by the city of Cohoes, Catholic Charities assisted 28 households including 43 people displaced by the fire. Services ranged from getting new furniture to providing a down payment on a new apartment. McAvoy says fire is a very particular kind of disaster.   "It's very sudden. It's very all-consuming. There was a lot of trauma. There was a lot of shock. There were a lot of people who were upset about what they had been going through and the difficulty in having to rebuild. And through our case managers we're able to work with them and help them really to get to a better place both physically and kind of emotionally, so by the end of it they were some of the folks who were in a much darker place when we started working with them. They're much happier by the end and grateful for the help and assistance, which I have to point out really came from the community. Catholic Charities was the conduit that helped connect the people who wanted to reach out and help with the people who needed help, and in this case it just worked wonderfully."

State Assemblyman John McDonald, a former Cohoes mayor who operates a pharmacy in the city, says the community has accomplished a return to normalcy.   "The core of the business community is back in operation, it's been that way for several months now. In that same token, the state has been able to help out with close to a million dollars’ worth in grants to help with infrastructure, you know, sidewalks, aesthetic improvements in the downtown area which is part of the city's longer term vision. We were very fortunate after the fire, the governor's office was extremely responsive and in December we were able to deliver some funds to the city, which is gonna help with the overall downtown revitalization effort."

Cohoes Mayor Shawn Morse did not return a call for comment. He has spearheaded the effort to secure a $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative state grant to assist in the rebuilding effort.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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