Puerto Rican Families: Living in Limbo

Sandra Martínez and her son Adrian. (Photo by C. Vivar via The Bronx Free Press)

About 1,700 Puerto Rican families who were forced to leave the island after the devastation wrought by Hurricane María last September, including more than 700 families in New York, are having to make new living arrangements since the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is ending its Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) Program. Extensions of the original deadline continue to be ordered by the courts, thanks to a class action brought by LatinoJustice PRLDEF.

Some families facing earlier eviction deadlines are finding their way to new housing, with the support and help of the Department of Homeless Services’ Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) program. While they are grateful for the help, the families still have numerous hurdles to contend with. Life in limbo can be difficult, as Debralee Santos and Desiree Johnson write in The Bronx Free Press.

Sandra Martínez moved into a building on Lafayette Avenue in the Bronx on June 28.

The apartment building was new to the family – it offered them a modest two-bedroom unit with an inviting layout that made Martínez’s smile return.

“It’s really pretty,” she said. “Inside is beautiful.”

But there is no air conditioning and while she can abide the heat, she knows it is too much for her son.

“[Adrian] needs to be in air conditioning,” she said. “We turn on the fan, but it blows the same hot air. It gets me desperate.”

In 2016, a stray bullet hit her son’s spine, paralyzing Adrian from his waist down. Since then, the 11-year-old uses a wheelchair and has required round-the-clock attention.

Another mother, Sheila Feliciano, moved from the Holiday Inn Express in Queens with her three sons to a city-run shelter in Brooklyn, with the help of PATH. Although she would prefer to be in the Bronx where she has received treatment for a conical cornea, all the same, she says, the people at PATH “have helped stabilize us.” Before, she was getting repeated calls from FEMA reminding her that she needed to move.

The agency, she added, could do much more to help prepare families to make transitions to permanent housing.

“I think FEMA is really playing with the families,” Feliciano said. “If they’re going to extend the date anyway, tell us in time.”

“I have felt so hopeless with all of this,” she sighed.

Go to The Bronx Free Press to read more about how families from Puerto Rico are dealing with the uncertainty of life away from their homes.

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