Public Advocate Letitia James discussed plans to help Puerto Ricans and others displaced by the recent hurricanes. She and others spoke at City Hall on Oct. 12. Photo: Mihika Agarwal
Armories could house those displaced; education, health care and other services will be available
BY MIHIKA AGARWAL
With thousands in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the region still displaced by the ravages wrought by hurricanes in recent weeks, city and officials along with representatives from 10 Latin-American community organizations said last week they would pool resources and political might to ensure those with housing and other needs would be cared for.
Emphasizing the need to view the victims of the storms as “displaced Americans,” the city’s public advocate, Letitia James, said it was incumbent on New York officials and others to help provide shelter and other basic services to those affected.
“Throughout our history, New York City has always stood as a beacon of hope and as a place of refuge for those fleeing hardship and disaster, the first and final destination for a fresh start, and today should be no different,” James said during an Oct. 12 news conference at City Hall.
She emphasized the city’s long affiliation and shared culture with Puerto Rico.
It’s estimated that roughly 20,000 Puerto Ricans had arrived in Florida by last week. James and others said that in addition to housing, hurricane victims would need support with education, as well as health care.
Carlos Martinez said his son, stepfather and five siblings in Puerto Rico and were experiencing hardships. “My stepfather is 80 years old and he has just found out that he won’t be able to see a doctor for the next year because there is no electricity in hospitals,” said Martinez, who believes health care for the elderly to be the most urgent need.
Owing to the city’s perennially short supply of housing, ensuring that all of those displaced by the hurricanes have a roof over their heads is a priority for the city, James and others said. The city is considering establishing armories as temporary housing as well as providing housing vouchers to support victims in the immediate term.
“Recovery funds must go to victims, not vultures,” one organizer said.
James asked that the Federal Emergency Management Agency “step up to the plate” and provide its leadership and resources in getting individuals with acute needs out of Puerto Rico, and “recognizing that this is a humanitarian crisis.”
This week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the opening of a service center at the Julia De Burgos Latino Cultural Center at 1680 Lexington Avenue. The center, scheduled to open October 19, will provide basic resources and crucial services. It will be staffed with government officials as well as representatives from nonprofits and community-based organizations to help families and individuals enroll to secure public benefits such as health insurance and food assistance, as well as other services.
The center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays. People planning to visit the service centers can make an appointment by visiting nyc.gov or calling 311. The center will be closed Saturday, October 21.
“New York City will help those affected by recent hurricanes in any way we can,” de Blasio said in a statement. “We’ve been sending donations and emergency responders to affected areas, and now we’re setting up a central location to help displaced people in our city receive essential services and assistance.”