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Orange County summit addresses needs of Puerto Rican evacuees

Affordable housing shortage, healthcare, finding jobs among hardships

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Commissioner Emily Bonilla held a summit Monday morning to address continuing issues in helping Puerto Rican evacuees and to corral nonprofit organizations, hoping to get them all on one page to pool resources.

“We've been having these issues a long time and so we do need some strong leadership to start solving theses issues," Bonilla said.

Issues facing people who arrived in Florida after Hurricane Maria include finding affordable housing, health care and good paying jobs. Most organizations were already strapped with the population growth already happening in Orange County and the influx of Puerto Ricans has made it even harder, officials said.

President and CEO Marni Stahlman of the nonprofit healthcare organization Shepherd's Hope said she is concerned about the layers of help individuals need and how they all play into each other. Stahlman said she's encountered cancer patients with no housing.

“While these patients are grappling with their acute and chronic illnesses, they are also now having to face that they're now grappling with housing," Stahlman said. "So I'm really interested in seeing how that interplays."

United Way and Orange County Public Library representatives echoed Zambrano's concerns. United Way is assisting with rent and security deposits, the library provides free services to help with job searches, education and English as a second language lessons. Other organizations exchanged ideas as well.

Bonilla said that every problem may not be solved in Central Florida.

“This may not be the place for everyone to live, they may need to do some research and find somewhere more suitable with more resources," Bonilla said. "I would love Orange County to be that place for them.”

Bonilla said she plans to urge Orange County to provide more resources.