One year on, refugees from Hurricane Maria still need homes

  • Miguel Cruz, who is the pastor of Templo Eben-ezer in Holyoke, speaks during a gathering held to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria and support Puerto Rican refugees, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 outside his church. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jose Rivera, holding microphone, who is a refugee of Hurricane Maria, speaks during a gathering held to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria and support Puerto Rican refugees, Thursday, outside Templo Eben-ezer in Holyoke. STAFF PHOTOS/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Refugees Dailerys Dalmau, right, speaks beside her sister, Analee Dalmau, during a gathering held to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria and support Puerto Rican refugees, Thursday, in Holyoke. Victor Ramos, left, a pastor from Springfield, also spoke. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Harold Malave, 2, holds the flag of Puerto Rico during a gathering held to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria and support Puerto Rican refugees, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 outside Templo Eben-ezer in Holyoke. He lives with his mother, Linette Rosaro, in a hotel in West Springfield. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Carmen Romero, who is a member of Templo Eben-ezer in Holyoke, speaks during a gathering held to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria and support Puerto Rican refugees, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 outside her church. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Wilson Ramos speaks during a gathering held to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria and support Puerto Rican refugees, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 outside Templo Eben-ezer in Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Victor Ramos, a pastor from Springfield, speaks during a gathering held to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria and support Puerto Rican refugees, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 outside Templo Eben-ezer in Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • People hold hands and pray during a gathering held to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria and support Puerto Rican refugees, Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018 outside Templo Eben-ezer in Holyoke. —STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 9/21/2018 12:26:30 AM

HOLYOKE — About three dozen people gathered for an event marking the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, and draw attention to the struggles facing those displaced by the hurricane who have moved to Massachusetts.

Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, leading to the deaths nearly 3,000 people and causing damage to the island’s infrastructure that is still being felt to this day. Property damage from the storm on the island has been estimated at $100 billion.

Organized by the Pioneer Valley Project, the event was almost entirely in Spanish and held outside the Templo Eben-ezer church. Local pastors and Puerto Rican hurricane refugees who have settled in the area spoke. There was also prayer, including a prayer circle at the end of the event.

“It’s an honor to be surrounded by folks who’ve been through so much and have such resilience,” said Tara Parrish, director of the Pioneer Valley Project.

A key demand brought up at the event was for permanent housing.

“What we want is permanent housing,” said Jose Rivera, who is currently living in a single hotel room with his wife, his daughter, his son, his son’s wife and a baby.

A number of the Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria to Massachusetts have been living in hotels paid for by federal and state aid. However, in addition to having multiple family members in a single room, living in hotels has also produced other challenges.

Rivera told the Gazette that his wife requires a personal care assistant, and that she is not being provided one because they live in a hotel room. As such, Rivera is unable to work, and must take care of his wife instead.

Back in Puerto Rico, Rivera was as an electronics technician, and lived in the town of Comerio, in the center of the island far from the metropolitan areas. He said the main road to Comerio was totally destroyed by the hurricane.

Analee Dalmau, 24, lives in a single hotel room with her sister, Dailerys, and and Dailerys’ three children. Currently she is employed by the No on Question 1 campaign, but that will end after the November election, and she says living in a hotel has made it difficult for her to find other work.

“Staying in a hotel is closing doors for my family,” Dalmau told the Gazette.

Both Dalmau and her sister spoke at the event.

“Continue fighting,” Dalmau said, in her remarks. “Don’t give up.”

Templo Eben-ezer is one of six congregations that has formed the Holyoke chapter of the Pioneer Valley Project, along with displaced families from Puerto Rico. Parrish said that the displaced families issue led to the formation of the chapter.

The Pioneer Valley Project was formed in 1996, and is a coalition of congregations, community groups and labor unions formed around shared values that seeks to cultivate and strengthen grassroots leadership.

“We work on the issues that our members want to work on,” which have included the fight for a $15 minimum wage, criminal justice reform and immigration, she said.

Parrish said the Federal Emergency Management Agency money for the hotels is finished, and the state of Massachusetts has picked up where FEMA has left off, yet that money is currently set to last until the end of this month. Parrish also said that when people have been given extensions in the past they’ve been notified days beforehand.

“People would literally be packing, thinking they would be out,” she said.

Parrish said these families do not have access to the Disaster Housing Assistance Program, which would provide resources to families to get permanent housing. She said the families have lobbied Massachusetts’ federal delegation to push for access to that FEMA program, but that although those lobbied have pushed for it, the federal government has not responded.

However, she said, a similar program was created in Massachusetts to help these displaced people, following the lobbying of state officials by affected families, with up to $8,000 per family given to aid in providing permanent housing. As such, she said 50 percent of people who were in the hotels are now in permanent housing.

“That wouldn’t have happened had these folks not advocated for themselves,” she said.

Both Rivera and Dalmau said they intend to stay in Massachusetts, and not return to Puerto Rico.

Dalmau says she wants a better life for herself and to go to college for physical therapy, and that the schools in Puerto Rico are “horrible.” In Puerto Rico, Dalmau lived in the town of Juncos, where she worked at a Ponderosa Steakhouse and volunteered in the National Forest. Her mother and father remain in Puerto Rico.

Rivera said there are no jobs in Puerto Rico, and that the health care and education systems are both bad there. Indeed, he said most of the doctors left the island following the hurricane.

“They are taking care of us,” said Rivera, on why he came out to the rally. “We are still fighting.”

“We are a people who fight together,” Dalmau said, in remarks to the media.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.




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