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Living in Temporary Housing Following a Natural Disaster or Other Emergency


Living in temporary accommodations can be challenging even if you only expect to stay a very short time. You may be living in a hotel, a motel, a rented house or an apartment miles from where you used to live. You may have few, if any, of the comforts of home - your favorite chair, a child's special toy or your neighborhood activities. You may not know your neighbors or have had a chance to find doctors and other professionals you trust. But, with a little planning, you can reduce the stresses and strains of living in temporary quarters.

Making a temporary residence feel like home

Whether you are living in a rental home, apartment, extended-stay hotel or motel, you can take many steps to make your temporary residence feel like home. 

  • Display family pictures and children's artwork. Ask friends and family members to send you copies of these so you can post them on the refrigerator or a bulletin board. Or see if they can put together a small family photo album for you. Have children create new drawings or take new photographs to help decorate your walls.
  • Buy duplicates of a few small items with special meaning. Your temporary residence may feel much more comfortable if you add a few items such as a plant, a familiar scented candle, a poster of your favorite sports team or any other items similar to the ones you had in your former home.
  • If you are staying in a hotel or a motel, let the staff know what would make your stay easier. Many hotels and motels are expanding their services for long-term guests. You may be able to get many items in your room for free or for a small extra charge - a coffeemaker, blender, humidifier, children's toys, special pillows or extra blankets. The staff may also be able to arrange for services such as the delivery of groceries, prescriptions, dry cleaning or meals for a special diet.
  • Get to know your neighbors, store owners and your child's new school community. Introduce yourself to people you see frequently. This can help you feel more connected to your new community, especially when various people recognize you and start addressing you by name.
  • Listen and talk to other people. Even if you are reluctant to talk about your feelings, listening to others can help you get out of your isolation, stay connected and feel useful. When you realize that you have a lot in common with someone else, you may start to open up yourself. This is one way to start building trust with the new people in your life.
  • Be patient with yourself, your family and other people. Also, try not to personalize what other people are saying or compare how other people are feeling or handling situations. Everyone may have gone through the same traumatic event, but everyone will probably be reacting differently. Emotions may be at an all-time high, and patience may be at an all-time low.

Getting settled in your new community

You will have many tasks to do as you get settled in your new community, but remember to put health and safety first.

  • Post a list of emergency numbers and other resources. Check the phone book or ask directory assistance for the emergency number in your area (911 or 0). Don't assume that you are in a 911 area or that dialing this number will bring emergency help immediately, especially if you make telephone calls through a computer. Also, include numbers for Poison Control, your friends and family, the new school, new physicians and new friends.
  • If you drive, learn the rules of the road in your new community. If you're living in a new state, call or visit the motor vehicle department to get a booklet that lists the rules. If you have an out-of-state driver's license, find out how long you will be able to use it or if you will have to get a new license and what this will require.
  • Ask friends to recommend doctors, dentists and other health care providers. If you have a health concern, call as soon as you can for an appointment with a doctor who has experience with your condition. Remember that as a new patient, you may have to wait weeks for your first office appointment.
  • Make contact as soon as you can with your child's new teachers. Try to set up a meeting to explain the circumstances of your move and how you think your child is doing. The school may even be able to connect your child with other children from your old community.
  • If you have a young child, take steps to make your home childproof. If you are renting a furnished house or apartment, do a safety check. Walk through your home and remove any items that might harm your child, including chemicals that a former tenant may have left behind in a basement or garage. Put covers on electrical sockets, and invest in childproof locks or gates to keep your child away from any unsafe areas.
  • Reach out to other residents in your temporary housing, as everyone may be a little shy at first. It is possible that other survivors have been relocated to the same place you're staying. Children will also be able to connect and make new friends with other children who share similar experiences.
  • Find healthy ways to relieve stress. Moving and being uprooted is stressful, and it can be much more so if you have been forced to move because of a natural disaster or other traumatic event. Find healthy ways to ease the extra stresses you may be feeling. You may want to exercise, practice yoga or set aside a few minutes each day for an activity you find soothing, such as listening to music or writing in a journal.

Keeping up your usual routines

You will have an easier time adjusting to a temporary home if you stick to as many of your usual routines as you can. Having a predictable schedule will help your new environment seem less overwhelming.

  • Have regular times for sleeping, eating healthy foods and exercising. All of these are good ways to reduce the stress of adjusting to your new environment and keep you feeling your physical best.
  • Celebrate holidays and other special occasions. If you or a family member will celebrate a birthday while staying in a hotel or motel, let the staff know. The staff may be able to help you mark the occasion in a special way - for example, by providing a special treat for a child or singing "Happy Birthday" to an adult.
  • Connect with local chapters of national organizations you belong to. It's often easier to make new friends by starting with these organizations because you already have something in common with the members. You may be able to join local chapters of an alumni club, a veterans group or a professional organization. Your children may be able to join the local scouting troop or enroll in other familiar activities.
  • Subscribe to a newspaper or magazine from your former community. These will help you stay connected to your former home.
  • Keep in touch with friends and relatives who live in other places. You might make regular check-in calls, start a family newsletter or send photos. Or you could start a round-robin email message where each friend or family member adds a line to an email message, then passes it along to another.
  • Strengthen any spiritual beliefs that are important to you. Your religious or spiritual beliefs can provide comfort during a time of transition. You may want to begin exploring houses of worship in your new community or set aside some time each day for a spiritual activity such as meditation.
  • Create your own new routines. It's often best to explore a new community on foot. You might try to schedule a walk at the same time each day. Visit the local library or neighborhood coffee shop on the same day of the week. This will also enable people to start recognizing you, and as a result, they may be more inclined to greet or even stop and introduce themselves to you.

Whether you are living in a house, apartment, hotel or motel, you won't be able to anticipate every challenge that you might have to face going forward. By continuing to focus on your strengths and the resiliency that helped you get through this disaster, you will have a head start on feeling more comfortable and more at home in your temporary accommodations.


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