As FEMA Help Runs Out, City Offers Shelter to María Victims

Yoselín Quiñones (back center) and other Puerto Ricans took refuge in a New York hotel after fleeing Hurricane María. (Photo via El Diario)

On Saturday, June 30, hundreds of Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane María currently living in hotels across New York under the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Transitional Shelter Assistance program will have to leave their rooms as the program comes to an end. While the federal government says that it will not pay to extend their stay, the de Blasio administration has announced that the city will take them in under its shelter system and transfer them to hotels and shelters.

According to City Hall, an estimated 600 to 700 Puerto Rican Hurricane victims may be added to the Big Apple’s homeless population of 60,000.

The administration added that thanks to the help provided by Catholic Charities, 108 affected families will be taken to hotels managed by the city’s Department of Homeless Services and they will be able to have access to other social and educational services.

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Shelter staff will meet with the families to help them formally apply to be admitted to a shelter and evaluate their eligibility to remain in the system.

Aside from the 108 families who will lose the temporary housing FEMA provided, 134 others who did not qualify for the program are also in the process of applying for shelter through the Homeless Services Department.

The plan of the de Blasio administration will get the Department of Education (DOE) involved to work with the families so that their children may be enrolled in schools and to place them in summer youth job programs.

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Héctor Figueroa – president of union 32BJ, which is a part of VAMOS4PR, an organization helping victims of Hurricane María – said he was grateful for the proactive manner in which Mayor de Blasio and the City Council have handled the issue of the Puerto Rican hurricane victims.

“These refugees have nowhere to go. They are the sick, the elderly, people who lost their homes, their loved ones and their jobs. We need other state and local leaders to also take action and provide the necessary assistance to help them recover and rebuild their lives,” said Figueroa.

Still, many of the survivors are not convinced by the offer made by local officials. One of them is nurse Yoselín Quiñones, 28, who on Saturday will have to leave the hotel room where the federal government housed her late last year in Whitestone, Queens. She lives there with her 9-year-old daughter and her mother, who has cancer.

“We are more than 200 families who have come together and we do not agree with the mayor’s plan, not to mention being abandoned by the federal government, which was told to us through a text message saying we have to go back to Puerto Rico where our homes are uninhabitable,” said Quiñones, who urged the mayor to create an effective, permanent rent subsidy program.

“The mayor saying that he will move us somewhere else does not sound like a good option to me because we do not need more shelters after eight months of living here. What we are asking him to do is to give us assistance to cover the cost of our own rental apartments. Not to pay for everything, but to give us a home,” said Quiñones.

Sonia Velásquez, of the YMCA, which has also helped the victims, thanked de Blasio for his good intentions but deemed them insufficient.

“We have to be fair and acknowledge that the mayor has always tried to help, much more than the governor and the federal government, that is obvious, but I cannot support a plan to move these people to hotels. That only shows that, eight months later, the city still has no plan B,” said the activist, who also announced a demonstration to be held on Friday in which victims will gather in Brooklyn to protest the mayor’s plan.

“We disagree with the plan, particularly because it will be yet more trauma for the children. Many of them have already gone to two or three schools in less than a year, which has a significant psychological impact,” concluded Velásquez.

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