A fund has been set up by the Montgomery Housing Partnership to support transportation, clothing and supplies for families and children who lived at the Friendly Garden apartments on Lyttonsville Road in Silver Spring.
“It is a traumatic situation, and it doesn’t end when the news coverage ends,” Robert Goldman, president of Montgomery Housing Partnership told WTOP. “Some families completely lost everything they have and all their belongings, and others may be displaced for a few days.”
Officials are encouraging residents to make monetary donations, since its unclear what physical items will be needed right away and donated items can be unwieldy to store.
As of Thursday evening, the fund has collected over $42,000 for those effected by the fire. Goldman said 100% of the proceeds will go to those affected to help with housing and furniture to medical and mental health care.
“It’s been heartwarming to see the residents’ outpouring of support,” Goldman said.
The blast and fire reduced one building of the six-building complex to charred rubble, but it also rendered unsafe two other nearby buildings, fire officials said Thursday afternoon. The total number of residents displaced by the fire was estimated to be about 100.
The Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services and the Red Cross are working to find both short- and long-term housing for displaced residents.
Mary Anderson, spokesperson for Montgomery County Health and Human Services, said the department brought in mental health crisis counselors, translators and social workers on the ground to find displaced families, see if they are missing anyone and find out what are some of their immediate needs, like missing medications.
“Medicine needs are often like [needed] right now,” Anderson said. “If I’ve got to take my blood pressure medicine at 7 o’clock, and I don’t have it, we’ve got nurses who can help facilitate an emergency delivery,”
County Executive Marc Elrich said he has been in contact with the property owner of a nearby building about potentially getting permanent housing for residents more quickly rather than longer stays in emergency shelters or hotel rooms.
“We’re gonna need permanent housing very quickly for them,” Elrich said during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Residents of the three damaged buildings are being directed to register at the nearby Gwendolyn E. Coffield Community Recreation Center. Anderson said after registration, people who need overnight shelter will be the transported to the White Oak Recreation Center. The department is also assessing how long the shelter will need to be open.
“We’re encouraging people that this is where to go … If you’re hearing this on radio, on your way home, or on television, before you get back here, go to the Coffield Center [to get registered],” Elrich said during the news conference.
The Red Cross will work together with the county to provide all the equipment, food, cots and volunteers to help run the shelter, Anderson said. The nonprofit has already put a call out for local volunteers who can help at the registration and reunification center.
“I think everybody who’s trained in this disaster response, they’ve got a flexibility about them, because you really don’t know what somebody’s needs might be until you talk to them and find out what’s going on,” Anderson said.
As of Thursday evening, about 60-70 families had registered for assistance, Anderson said.
In the near future, the country will be announcing another partnership with another organization that will provide clothing, diapers, small household items to give to displaced residents, Anderson said. Information on how local residents can donate items will also be determined at a later time.
“This is a very generous community, and it’s also not just the work of one agency,” Anderson said. “There’s a network both within county government and in the private sector…involved in a situation like this.”
The county’s goal is to provide housing and to put residents in contact with the services they need right away, Elrich said.
“We want to know … how many people are under really severe stress and needing mental health supports and emotional support. We want to be able to assess that population before we disperse them to shelters or to hotel rooms. We want to make sure that people are getting the help they need.”
Montgomery County Council President Gabe Albornoz said, “On behalf of the council, we want to extend our deepest condolences to all the families that have been devastated by this awful and tragic incident. One of our own council staff members, a building service worker, lives in the residence that was destroyed and was at work when she found out … about the incident. Fortunately, she and all of her family members are accounted for, but she has lost everything like so many families have here this afternoon.”
Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.