LOWELL -- On Sak, the grandfather of three children who died in the Branch Street fire last Thursday, remains very scared about where he will stay in the coming weeks and who will be there to support him.
Bopha Malone, board chair of the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association, said Sak has reached out to share his worries and to ask for help.
Malone said she wanted to connect those like Sak with housing and other services they need, but she had some questions about where to turn.
Leaders of nonprofits and other community organizations, as well as government officials, gathered Monday morning at CMAA's headquarters on Cross Street to come up with answers to questions about how to best serve the survivors of last week's fire that left seven dead.
By the end of the hour-plus session, the almost 50 people gathered developed a game plan for meeting a variety of needs of survivors moving forward.
Community Teamwork Inc., known as CTI, was chosen as the agency to coordinate the bulk of the survivor-assistance efforts in the aftermath of the Red Cross's support for the victims. The Red Cross has paid for lodging, provided credit cards for food and clothing, and provided health and mental-health services.
CTI will make sure those survivors in hotels/motels will have their stays extended for the time being, said Kristin Ross-Sitcawich, CTI's director of homelessness prevention & home ownership programs.
Ross-Sitcawich said CTI will also work on finding permanent housing for the survivors of the state's deadliest fire in two decades.
"Based on the size of the families and their needs, it could take anywhere from one to three weeks," Ross-Sitcawich told The Sun. "Our priority is trying to help these families return to some sense of normalcy."
CTI has reached out to the state Department of Housing and Community Development about providing survivors with Massachusetts Rental Voucher Program vouchers to help subsidize the costs of their new living arrangements.
The Wish Project of Lowell will provide furnishings for survivors new housing units, said Donna Hunnewell, the Wish Project's executive director.
Hunnewell's organization is also providing phones to survivors and has clothes and food it plans to give as well, among other items.
"We will guarantee the victims will get 100 percent of what they need," Hunnewell said.
Those present at the meeting agreed that developing a list of the survivors and where they are located would be key to providing the best service to them.
The Lowell Community Health Center also agreed to open its doors to survivors and others in need.
Molyka Tieng, the health center's outreach coordinator, said the center can provide both counseling and primary-care services.
Mayor Rodney Elliott pledged the city's support to the efforts, such as helping the survivors secure birth records they will need to access services.
Meanwhile, CMAA will work to connect survivors, many of whom are of Cambodian descent, to the different services.
Some present at the meeting said one challenge will be that people of Cambodian descent are sometimes reluctant to accept help from others, an issue Malone said CMAA will try to address.
"What we do is mainly guide people and encourage people to accept services that would help them get what they need," said Malone, of CMAA.
Other organizations represented included Lowell General Hospital, the Lowell Fire Department, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Coalition for a Better Acre and the United Teen Equality Center.
CMAA Deputy Director Voop de Vulpillieres, who directed the meeting, was among those who thanked all the participants and said she was pleased with the progress. Another meeting will be held next Monday for a status update.
"This is such an amazing community," said de Vulpillieres. "Everyone has stepped up and is willing to jump in to help."
As for On Sak, Malone after the meeting she would be able to assure him and others in his position that they will get the housing and other help they need.
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