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New York's new homeless: 'The other shoe'

A J.Crew employee: 'I may look cool but ...'

Coleman Bell, J.Crew worker in New York made homeless by the attacks
Coleman Bell, a sales associate with J.Crew in New York, found his Battery Park City apartment ruined: "All the windows were blown out, there was soot everywhere."  

By Suhasini Haidar

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Every morning, 24 year-old Coleman Bell gets ready for work and goes down to Rockefeller Center Plaza in Manhattan. He's a sales associate with J.Crew.

Seems normal.

But Coleman Bell has no home. In fact, he wears donated clothes. And for the last nine days, he has eaten breakfast at a Red Cross shelter.

September 11 began like any other for Bell. He was on his way to the mall at the bottom of the World Trade Center, to check on the J.Crew outlet there before going uptown. Then American Airlines Flight 11 hit the north tower.

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Bell ran for miles, he recalls, not knowing where to go. His apartment in Battery Park City -- a block from the World Trade Center -- was off-limits.

For two days, he slept at his local church. One night, he even slept on a bench in Union Park, expecting to go home the next day. But when the police let him in to collect some belongings, he was in for a shock.

"There wasn't anything I could salvage there," he says. "All the windows were blown out, there was soot everywhere." And it had rained -- all his things were covered in sludge.

Bell went into a shelter for displaced residents run by the Red Cross, one of 10 in the city. He was given a bed and all his meals, at no cost. His employer, J.Crew, fitted him out with a new wardrobe.

Coleman Bell says he knows he's lucky to be alive, but he's mentally very shaken. "I may look cool," he says, "But psychologically, I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop. I feel like a refugee or something."

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Many other displaced Manhattanites of the World Trade Center neighborhood have had to move in with friends and relatives or stay at shelters while waiting for their buildings to be declared open by the New York authorities.

Until then, they're stuck in a kind of limbo, unable to make any plans until they can reclaim some of their belongings. Many in the shelters say they feel uncomfortable living off charity, but say they have no choice. Some who are luckier have been accommodated at hotels by their companies or are temporarily relocating outside the city.

Others, like 20-year-old William Rausch, have been dealt more than one blow.

He lived with his mother, an employee at Marsh & McLennan Company, in an apartment at Trinity Place, just facing the World Trade Center. His mother is one of the thousands of people missing.

At the time of the attack, Marsh & McLennan officials estimate that as many as 1,900 employees and business visitors were at the twin towers. The company's Web site indicates that some 313 of those people are unaccounted for and two have been confirmed dead. Marsh & McLennan -- or "MMC," as the company's people abbreviate the corporate name -- had offices on floors 48 through 54 of the south tower. They appear to have been safely evacuated. But those in the north tower's floors 93 through 100 were less fortunate.

And Rausch has no home, money nor relatives nearby. He's eligible to apply for support and information at MMC's new family assistance center, opened at the Millennium Hotel in Midtown.

Rausch says he'd like to go see his uncle in New Jersey, but says he can't afford the fare. And he still wants to get back in his apartment to collect some things. When asked what he'll collect, he goes silent, then says maybe some photographs.

Obviously home will never be home without his mother. He's clearly dazed and spends his time with friends he has made at the shelter he's staying in.

"To tell you the truth, ignorance is bliss." John Kneeley, CEO of Martin Progressive,   says not knowing the gravity of what had happened to the north tower of the World Trade Center helped him and his colleagues escape the building.

His closest friend, Danny Gonzalez, says he has no family to depend on, either. Out of work and not very well off before the attacks, he stayed in a small room near the towers. It's now closed off. He isn't sure whether his landlord still expects him pay his rent while he's away, but says he hopes he can find some sort of a job soon, just in case.

Thousands of people in New York have similarly been made the new homeless citizens -- left with very little, and dwindling hopes for what they can return to. In many cases, the police let them back into their homes very briefly, usually in batches of 50 at a time -- they're made to leave after 15 minutes.

Most say they feel lucky they're alive. But they're eager to get home soon to start picking up the threads of lives that have unraveled so dramatically.


• Federal Emergency Management Agency
• J.Crew
• Marsh & McLennan
• American Red Cross

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