Puerto Ricans seeking refuge in Central Florida struggle to find housing

Families staying with relatives, in hotels

ORLANDO, Fla. – Hundreds of Puerto Ricans continue to pour into Central Florida, many of them staying with family and friends, some even staying in hotels, ready to rebuild a new life.

But with housing already difficult to find in Central Florida, local officials are concerned on where the influx of people coming in will go. 

"It's very hard and emotional because I had everything at home," Sinthia Colon said.

She landed at Orlando International Airport on Wednesday with her children, mother-in-law and a few pieces of luggage with everything she could grab before leaving her now-torn country of Puerto Rico. 

"I'm just starting from scratch," she said. 

Colon, for now, will be staying with her brother and sister-in-law in Orlando, but after that doesn't know where she will go. 

That's why she went to one of the state's three Disaster Relief Centers at OIA, hoping to find that answer. 

But local officials said housing just isn't available in Central Florida. 

"We don't know that yet," said Ana Cruz, coordinator for Orlando's Hispanic Office of Local Assistance. "It's very hard for them to find an apartment or a house. We are trying to look for places that might be available to accommodate them, we've been calling apartment complexes, but it just takes time."

Housing was the biggest concern Mayor Teresa Jacobs said about the influx of families at the Orange County Board of Commission's meeting Tuesday afternoon. 

"Our housing stock does not support that kind of increase in population so that's one of our questions back up to the state and FEMA," Jacobs told the commission. 

Officials from the governor's office told News 6 Wednesday afternoon that they are working with FEMA to get both short-term and long-term solutions. 

"The State of Florida is fully committed to doing everything possible to help families affected by Hurricane Maria, both in Puerto Rico and here in Florida," spokesperson Kerri Wyland woman. "State emergency management officials are actively working with state and local partners like the American Red Cross on available resources such as shelter operations, and have been coordinating with FEMA to help determine long-term housing solutions. We will continue to work tirelessly with all our partners to make sure all appropriate resources are made available to Puerto Rican families displaced by the storm."

Even though that might take time, local school districts are not waiting to enroll students into school. Both Orange and Osceola Counties said they are waiving some of the necessary documents needed for students to enroll to get them in the classroom as soon as possible. 

Already, Orange County Public Schools said the district has enrolled 19 students from Puerto Rico and Osceola County schools said the district has enrolled 69 students. 

Both school districts are also offering jobs to those student's parents or family members, both instructional and non-instructional. 

Lynx transportation is also offering jobs, and Universal Studios said the company has 3,000 openings

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity is also helping employ those coming in, for more information visit www.employflorida.com

Families from Puerto Rico can also go to the OIA  for one-stop help at the Disaster Relief Center for any help they may need. It will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day until at least Sunday. 

About the Author: