For the past four and a half months, Rosa Ortiz has been living with her 14-year-old son at hotels in West Springfield after her home of Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, was devastated by Hurricane Maria nearly seven months ago. But now, their temporary housing is in jeopardy and they could end up homeless.
Ortiz and other families who relocated to the Pioneer Valley after the hurricane will likely lose housing when the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Red Cross housing funding deadlines are reached on April 20 and April 24, respectively.
Ortiz said she had a normal life in Toa Alta working as a nurse before the hurricane devastated the island, but now could face homelessness.
“We could be left in the streets,” Ortiz said via translator Emily Rodriguez, an organizer with the Pioneer Valley Project. “We’ve gone everywhere asking for housing and applying, but nothing. There is nothing. We are American citizens. People who want to work, they cannot find jobs.”
Puerto Rican families housed in Western Massachusetts alongside members of the Pioneer Valley Project met outside U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey’s Springfield offices at 1550 Main St. on April 19 with the looming deadline approaching, but both offices were closed despite office hours indicating both would be open.
Tara Parrish, a lead organizer with the Pioneer Valley Project, said her organization was able to reach staff members at the Boston Offices for both senators, including James Cantwell, state director for Markey’s Office, during a 40-minute conference call that afternoon, which was live streamed on the Pioneer Valley Project’s Facebook page.
“He didn’t make any commitments,” Parrish said in regards to Cantwell statement about the Red Cross and FEMA housing funding deadlines.
Parrish said she was told Warren’s office was closed due to carpet renovations and was unsure why Markey’s Springfield office was closed as well.
In a press release from the Pioneer Valley Project, Jose Rivera, who has been living at the Quality Inn in West Springfield with his wife and daughter for several months, said he and other Puerto Rican families requested a meeting with the U.S. senators on April 5, but no clear answers were given on that night.
“They aren’t giving us any clear answers now,” Rivera said. “We are fighting for our lives. We didn’t ask for Maria. We didn’t ask to live in hotels for so long. We want to move on with our lives. We are American citizens and we deserve better. We will not be ignored and we are not going away.”
It costs FEMA or the Red Cross about $3,800 a month to house families in hotels, according to the press release.
Many of the Puerto Ricans who came to live in Western Massachusetts after Hurricane Maria are unable to find employment or obtain a driver’s license, according to the press release. Housing remains another challenge as well.
Springfield City Councilor Adam Gomez, who was in attendance during the morning action outside the Warren and Markey’s Springfield offices, said he thinks Puerto Rican families living in Western Massachusetts hotels need answers.
“These folks need answers,” he said. “They came here to talk; to speak to somebody. Unfortunately, that’s just not the case.”