Puerto Rican evacuees, Blumenthal demand better housing benefits

HAMDEN -- Tuesday morning, a family displaced by the devastation left by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico spoke up about their struggles since moving to Connecticut.

And as it turns out, they are not alone.

For nearly a year, Ana Garcia and her family, forced out of Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria, have been living as virtual nomads in the New Haven area.

"This is our fifth home since we came from the hurricane," she said of the Hamden residence that she, her husband and their two children share a room in.

That's because they are among the vast majority of Puerto Ricans that did not qualify for Transitional Shelter Assistance, from the government, because they did not own their own home in Puerto Rico.

"We, as Puerto Rican families, we are United States citizens," she said. "We need and demand stable, affordable housing."

Most apartment rentals, that would be in their price range, in Connecticut, she said, require one month rent and one month security deposit, which they simply cannot afford.

"You are really the face and voice of 13,000 people, who have come here from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands," said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), an invited guest.

Blumenthal has introduced legislation because, he said, the federal government does not offer long-term housing assistance to these folks as as they did others impacted by natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina and Super storm Sandy.

"The federal government has given us no explanation, no justification," said Blumenthal.

A Hamden couple recently became the 5th host family to offer these evacuees a place to stay.

"Me and my wife want to help and our community wants to help and our church wants to help," said Brian Ibarra, who has opened his home to the family of four.

Even as unsettled as their lives have been, the family has something to look forward to. Their 17-year-old daughter, a 4.0 student, is about to embark on her senior year at North Haven High School.

"I’m very grateful because I’m here and I can strive and just do it what my dream is, which is to be an anesthesiologist," said Keriany Otero, the daughter of Ana Garcia and Kermy Otero. "I’m grateful for North Haven high school for accepting me and my brother."

Her emotion, as she spoke, displayed a clear appreciation for an opportunity to carry out the American dream, even without the housing assistance most Americans are afforded.

"All they need is a little bit of help to get on their feet," said Blumenthal