What Next for Hurricane María Evacuees?

Andrea Tejeda, 26, feeds her 4-year-old daughter, Jadieliz Padilla. Limited food and cooking facilities are available in a Manhattan hotel where they are living. (Photo by Maite H. Mateo via Feet in 2 Worlds)

A few weeks ago, Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane María to New York City hotels were threatened with withdrawal of support from the Federal Emergency Management System (FEMA) and, following protests, received a reprieve until June 30. With that deadline looming, hundreds of affecting individuals are now facing an uncertain housing future.

There are an estimated 10,000 evacuees from Puerto Rico living in NYC, many of them with relatives or friends. Still, a number are not. Writes Paula Moura in Feet in 2 Worlds:  “…the city’s Hurricane Relief Center processed 2,521 families and made 945 referrals to HomeBase, which oversees the city’s homeless prevention strategy. It was unclear, though, how many of those referrals led to shelter.” Moura spoke with Andrea Tejeda, 26, who is living in a hotel with her 4-year-old daughter, after first living with her uncle and then living in a homeless shelter.

She receives $352 a month from the city to spend on food, but she’s been skipping lunch because she can’t cook in the hotel and food at nearby restaurants is expensive. She said she often eats nothing until a dinner of rice with ketchup and canned sausage.

After June 30 when FEMA stops providing temporary accommodation, she thinks she will have to try to go to a shelter. But Tejeda is concerned a shelter can’t accommodate them. “As they say, there is no space for us there, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said. “I can’t be on the street with a 4-year-old.”

Her goal is to find an apartment so she can have a stable and safe life. But while she is in the FEMA hotel, she is not eligible for a rent voucher, which makes planning for longer term housing a challenge. “I want FEMA to let me go and the government to give me a push so I can move forward, find a stable job and raise my daughter.”

“There is definitely a feeling that we have to hope for the best, but now we have to prepare for the worst,” said Luz Correa, chair of the Bronx Coalition Supporting Hurricane Maria Evacuees. She has been in touch with families at the hotels and said some are preparing to enter the city’s shelter system. Placement isn’t guaranteed, though. A spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office said it “will continue creating strategies to support case management for these families affected by Hurricane Maria,” but didn’t provide details.

Tejeda felt compelled to bring her daughter here after witnessing a murder while staying with her mother in San Juan, a year after her ex-husband was murdered. Some evacuees from the island, after struggling in NYC, had headed elsewhere. Read more about the particular challenges of finding housing in NYC, and other stories of Puerto Ricans trying to make a new life in Lawrence, MA and elsewhere, at Feet in 2 Worlds.

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