One Year After Maria and Puerto Rico Families are still Struggling

In the me since Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico one year ago, families from the island have found refuge in Chelsea. For many, their lives have been measured out in deadlines as they have relied on a temporary housing program, administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), that on several occasions had been extended days before it was set to expire.

On September 14, a deadline finally came, and with no extension this me. Among an estimated 400 evacuees in Massachusetts supported by FEMA's Transitional Housing Assistance (TSA), as of last Friday nearly a dozen families in Chelsea who have been receiving support from the Collaborative could no longer look to the federal agency for help with housing. Under the program, FEMA had housed families displaced by Hurricane Maria in hotels throughout the state. Last month, a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled FEMA was no longer obligated to continued funding the program, which the agency stressed was intended to be a short-term fix, not a means of permanent housing. However, with stagnant wages and the ever-increasing cost of rent (especially within the Boston area), to many of our families permanent housing seems like less of a reality and more of a faraway pipedream, even for those able to work full-time. The federal government has also failed to secure funding for a Disaster Housing Assistance Program (DHAP), which provides subsidized housing for disaster victims and was established for both Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina.

Thanks largely to support from the Chelsea Police Department who provided us with transportation, last Friday Collaborative staff helped move eight families from their hotel in Chelsea to a new hotel in Saugus, that is now being paid for by the Commonwealth. Basic accommodations these families received in Chelsea, such as a room with a kitchen to cook meals in, are no longer a given as many were placed in rooms with only a microwave and mini-refrigerator. Geographically, Saugus is nearly 10 miles away from Chelsea, and 15 miles from Boston, making major bus lines into the city (such as the 111 and 114) even less accessible, especially for those who have children enrolled in school, or have secured employment downtown and rely on that income to survive.

The Chelsea Collaborative has been a trusted and committed resource throughout this tumultuous year, with the official opening of our Puerto Rico Welcoming Center. We have provided over 100 families with assistance in filling out applications for housing extensions; document recovery (such as drivers' licenses, etc.); adult basic education, job readiness trainings, and local employment opportunities; mental health and trauma support; applications for SNAP benefits and insurance through MassHealth; and even emergency overnight shelter. Many of these families have since returned to Puerto Rico, moved out of state, or are all moving from hotel to hotel in Massachusetts with little to no notice beforehand. All of this is due to a lack of proper oversight and massive failure on behalf of the federal government.

These families who have lost everything are all struggling to survive, and they deserve beer. Currently, their basic needs include:

- Prepared meals/easy-to-prepare meals

- Fall/winter clothing

- Transportation to and from school (for youth)

- Baby supplies (newborn clothing, formula)

We at the Collaborative would like to extend our sincere thanks to all of our supporters, funders, and community members who have helped us to assist these families (both in Chelsea and in Puerto Rico) to the extent that we have. To find out more ways that you can help or to donate to our Puerto Rico Welcoming Center, visit our website, or call us at 617-889-6080.

(617) 889-6080

318 Broadway, Chelsea, MA 02150, USA

Photography by Lena Mirisola