Puerto Rican Hurricane Evacuees Wait Until Last Minute To Know Their Fate In NYC

(THE GOTHAMIST) June 30, 2018 — In the tight hotel room in Midtown Manhattan that became her home for six months, Andrea Tejeda, 27, holds back tears. “This is our last week here and they haven’t told us anything,” she said. “I can’t psychologically bear it anymore.”

Tejeda and her 5-year-old daughter Jadieliz Padilla are among more than a hundred Puerto Rican families staying in New York City hotels sponsored by FEMA after Hurricane Maria. That federal support is about to end, as Saturday is the last of three extensions of FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program.

Until Tuesday, the only options these families had left were go back to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico or stay in New York and try to enter the shelter system. But just four days before the deadline, New York City announced that all the families will be transferred to hotels administered by the city’s The Department of Homeless Services and given access to other city services.

“The Trump administration abandoned the people of Puerto Rico. Our mayor will not. We will shelter our fellow U.S. citizens, and we will do all we can to help them to get back on their feet,” said mayoral spokesperson Jaclyn Rothenberg.

But some say local government isn’t going far enough. Evacuees were hoping that the June 30 deadline would give the city and state enough time to relocate them to a rental apartment and help them to find a job, but that wasn’t the case. One more time, they feel they have been left in a limbo.

“If it had been addressed 8 months ago, 7 months ago, 6 months ago, it would have cost a lot less money, the psychological trauma would have been less,” said Peter Gudaitis, CEO of The New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS), a non-profit group that worked at the city’s Hurricane Relief Center. Gudaitis said that all levels of government have fallen short in terms of support for Puerto Rican evacuees.

NYDIS estimates there are still up to 9,000 evacuees from Maria living in New York City. While many are staying with relatives, 230 have gone to city shelters. Some received vouchers from the NYC government, but according to NYDIS, they have been facing difficulties finding landlords who will accept them.

It’s not the first time the prospect of homelessness has come so close. On April 19, Tejeda joined a group to protest their imminent eviction after she received messages from FEMA and from the City, with only days notice that they would not be able to provide shelter anymore. After pressure from advocates and evacuees, FEMA resumed paying the bill until May 14 and then moved the deadline to June 30.