Puerto Rico residents looking to relocate to Connecticut after recent natural disasters are getting financial assistance to help with housing.
Officials estimate that in the eight weeks since the earthquakes hit, 25 families Puerto Rican families have moved into the Hartford area and dozens more in places like Meriden and Waterbury. They estimate 200 school children entered the public school system in Meriden after Hurricane Maria, and 90 remain. Additionally, officials say there are 70 new students in the Hartford school and more than 60 in Waterbury’s school district that have entered since the earthquake.
On Friday, the state pledged $75,000 in funding to help pay the first month’s rent or security deposit on an apartment.
“Everybody was yelling. The shelter was shaking. It was really hard for that. We always remember that. My kids were crying, everybody was crying and screaming at the same time,” recalled Norma Vazquez.
Vazquez escaped the epicenter of the earthquakes, Guanica, Puerto Rico, just five days ago. She said she first experienced a 6.4 quake on January 6 and life hasn’t been the same since.
“It’s hard to see the houses. It’s hard to see the schools. The entire town, touristic places, all destroyed, everything, everything is gone. For me it’s hard and I cry because that’s my town, that’s my place,” said Vazquez.
Vazquez spent more than a month sleeping in a tent after the shelter she sought refuge in with three children was damaged during multiple aftershocks.
“More than 3,000 tremors and earthquakes have happened since last December,” stated Fernando Betancourt, the executive director of the San Juan Center in Hartford.
The center along with social services organizations in Bridgeport, Waterbury, and New Haven will dole out the funding pledged by the state out of the Department of Housing’s budget.
“Many of them are staying with family members or friends or people that they know. Others are staying in shelters,” said Betancourt.
Vazquez came to Connecticut five days ago, with her children, ages 7, 14, and 17, and 74-year-old mother. She’s been staying with a cousin in the Hartford area. She came to the San Juan Center to find resources, housing, and to enroll her children in school. The schools in Guanica have been closed since the end of December.
“I lost everything and I need employment, I need clothes, I need education for my kids, I need everything,” she said.
Hartford’s mayor said the disaster is personal for many in our state.
“There are neighbors of ours who can’t get in touch with their loved ones when the phones don’t work or when the power’s out,” said Luke Bronin.
“For a lot of us Puerto Rico is part of Connecticut’s extended family. A lot of us have family ties in Puerto Rico,” added Gov. Ned Lamont.
“I am thankful for that and happy because we really need it at this moment,” said Vazquez.
Representative Geraldo Reyes of Waterbury said he hopes the state can partner with the private sector to find more money for families fleeing the island in fear.
“This is only a drop in the bucket. We’re going to have to have this conversation over and over again,” said Reyes.
He said families are migrating at a quicker rate than they did after Hurricane Maria in 2017, putting pressure on many communities, particularly school districts.
“It’s nowhere near enough to sustain what’s coming here,” he said.