Assistance continues for Puerto Rico evacuees in Central Florida

Uncertainties remain about housing as more evacuees are expected


ORLANDO, Fla. – Close to 2,000 Puerto Rico evacuees make their way through the relief center at Orlando International Airport each day, according to the Heart of Florida United Way and many more are expected to come through the area between now and the end of the year. 

Ray Larsen, with the United Way, was at the disaster relief center when it opened in early October after Hurricane Maria.

Volunteers with the organization have listened and helped as evacuees explain their needs. 
So far, United Way has paid for about 1,800 nights of hotel stays as evacuees wait for approval from FEMA. 

"We make sure that when we first come in contact with an evacuee, we make sure that they register with FEMA," Larsen said. 

"There were days, for instance, where the United Way, they were seeing up to 450 people in a single day. Those numbers have gotten a little bit lower but there's still definitely a need out there," Orange County Public Safety director  Dr. George Ralls said.

Ralls said even though the numbers may be going down, the need is still there and will be for some time.

He added that more direction from the state and federal level needs to be given to local government. 

"What we haven't had is, we haven't had that directive from the federal or state government saying, 'We need you to put this plan into motion and this is how it's going to happen,'" Ralls said. 

Last week, Gov. Rick Scott sat down with Central Florida leaders for a roundtable discussion of what is needed. 

Concerns were addressed but there was no definitive note of what would happen next. 

News 6 contacted Scott's office Friday and again Monday. 

In a statement, Scott's office said, “Governor Scott is committed to continuing to work with FEMA and local officials on all ways to help Puerto Ricans moving to Florida, including housing. That is why he hosted the roundtable with Florida mayors, community officials and volunteer organizations to discuss the ongoing relief efforts, and why he requested the host state agreement to allow the state to continue helping displaced families in Florida while ensuring 100 percent reimbursement on state costs from FEMA."

News 6 also contacted FEMA for answers regarding its Transitional Shelter Assistance Program after some evacuees expressed concern about their pending applications and how long the program will be available. 

News 6 is still waiting for answers. 

In the meantime, the relief center at the Orlando airport will remain open. 

How long it will stay in that location remains among the list of questions that loom as evacuees work to establish a sense of normality once again.