Housing Assistance for Hurricane Maria Evacuees


JOSE CARDENAS: THANK YOU FOR JOINING US, I AM JOSE CARDENAS. EARLIER THIS WEEK A FEDERAL COURT CONSIDERED A CHALLENGE TO A FEMA DEADLINE THAT WOULD END SHELTER ASSISTANCE FOR NEARLY 2,000 HURRICANE MARIA EVACUEES STILL LIVING IN U.S. HOTELS. ADVOCATES SAY IT COULD LEAVE SEVERAL FAMILIES HOMELESS. HURRICANE MARIA WHICH RAVAGED THE U.S. TERRITORY OF PUERTO RICO WAS ONE OF THE DEADLIEST IN U.S. HISTORY. MORE THAN SEVEN TIMES THE ORIGINAL COUNT. JOINING ME TO TALK ABOUT THE CURRENT SITUATION IN PUERTO RICO IS MARLABETZ FIGUEROA BOARD MEMBER FOR THE PUERTO RICAN CENTER FOR ARIZONA AND CLAUDIO MEDINA, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR THE PUERTO RICAN CENTER FOR ARIZONA. MARLABETZ, CLAUDIO, WELCOME TO "HORIZONTE". MARLABETZ, LET’S START WITH YOU, TELL ME ABOUT THE PUERTO RICAN CENTER, IT PREDATES THE HURRICANE MARIA DISASTER, RIGHT?

MARLABETZ FIGUEROA: YES, IT DOES, IT WAS FORMED BY TWO WOMEN, BOTH FROM PUERTO RICO AND THEY'VE BEEN LIVING IN ARIZONA FOR MANY YEARS NOW. AT FIRST IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE JUST A NETWORKING GROUP AND THEN THEY SLOWLY NEED TO CREATE SOMETHING BIGGER THAN A NETWORKING GROUP AND CREATED THE CENTER AND OBVIOUSLY TOOK THE STEPS TO CREATE A NONPROFIT ORGANIZATION TO HELP PUERTO RICANS COMING INTO THE STATE, HAVING OBVIOUSLY HELPING THEM SETTLED, SO THEY CAN HAVE A PLACE TO MEET OTHER PUERTO RICANS AND FEEL AT HOME.

JOSE: AND RIGHT NOW, OF COURSE, THE FOCUS IS ON THE DISASTER RELIEF FROM HURRICANE MARIA. AS WE'RE TALKING, WE'LL HAVE PICTURES OF SOME OF THOSE EFFORTS. WHAT EXACTLY IS THE ORGANIZATION DOING TO HELP IN THAT REGARD?

MARLABETZ FIGUEROA: SO WE'RE STILL, RIGHT NOW WHAT WE'RE DOING IS FOCUSING ON IDENTIFYING PEOPLE WHO MOVED FROM PUERTO RICO AFTER HURRICAN MARIA INTO ARIZONA AND EXTENDING OUR HELP WHETHER IT'S RELOCATION PURPOSES, IF THEY NEED ASSISTANCE IN LET'S SAY FINDING EMPLOYMENT OR JUST NEED HELP TO GET BY WHILE THEY'RE HERE. A LOT OF PEOPLE LEFT THEIR HOMES, LEFT WITH THE CLOTHES ON THEIR BACKS AND DON'T HAVE MUCH OR DON'T KNOW ANYBODY HERE IN THE STATE. THEY JUST CAME BY CHANCE BECAUSE THEY JUST THOUGHT, OKAY, THIS IS A GOOD PLACE TO COME AND MAYBE I CAN FIND EMPLOYMENT HERE.
JOSE:SO CLAUDIO, YOU ARE THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CORRECT?

CLAUDIO MEDINA: YES, SIR.
JOSE: BUT YOUR CIRCUMSTANCES FOR COMING TO ARIZONA IS VERY MUCH AS MARLABETZ JUST DESCRIBED. YOU WERE FORCED OUT BY THE HURRICANE?

CLAUDIO MEDINA: YES, ON OCTOBER, I CAME TO ARIZONA BECAUSE THE HURRICANE, NO? MY HOUSE IS DAMAGED WITH THE HURRICANE, AND WE DON'T HAVE ELECTRICITY, ABOUT ONE TO TWO MONTHS AFTER THE HURRICANE. WE HAVE AN ELECTRIC PLANT, BUT THE COST IS VERY HIGH, NO, TO MAINTAIN THAT PLANT. WE SPEND ABOUT $1,000 IN A MONTH.
JOSE: JUST TO GENERATE YOUR OWN ELECTRICITY?

CLAUDIO MEDINA: YEAH, YEAH
JOSE: SO HOW LONG WERE YOU THERE AFTER THE HURRICANE HIT, BEFORE YOU CAME TO ARIZONA?

CLAUDIO MEDINA: ABOUT ONE MONTH.
JOSE: AND YOU HAVE FAMILY HERE, WHICH IS WHY YOU CHOSE ARIZONA?

CLAUDIO MEDINA: YES, MY SISTER WITH HER HUSBAND AND THE FAMILY LIVE HERE, ABOUT THREE, FOUR YEARS AGO, AND THEY SAID US, COME TO ARIZONA, AND LIVE HERE, AND WE ESTABLISH HERE IN ARIZONA.
JOSE: HOW DID YOU COME TO BE THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR FOR THE PUERTO RICAN CENTER FOR ARIZONA?

CLAUDIO MEDINA: WELL, THERE WAS AN ACTIVITY ON OCTOBER, NO?

JOSE CARDENAS: YEAH.

CLAUDIO MEDINA: THAT INVITE ALL THE PUERTO RICANS HERE TO COMMEMORATE THE HURRICANE IN PUERTO RICO. I GO TO THE ACTIVITY AND THEN --

MARLABETZ FIGUEROA: HE FELL INTO OUR LAP

CLAUDIO MEDINA: YEAH, YEAH.
JOSE: SO HOW MANY PUERTO RICANS, WHAT'S YOUR SENSE HOW MANY PUERTO RICANS ARE INVOLVED IN THE ORGANIZATION?

MARLABETZ FIGUEROA: WE HAVE OVER 100 MEMBERS, HOPING THAT WE HAVE A NEW BOARD TO OBVIOUSLY EXPAND THAT NUMBER. WE'RE DOING OUTREACH PROGRAMS NOW TO TRY TO IDENTIFY WHO HAS COME SINCE THEN, SINCE MARIA, TO ARIZONA OBVIOUSLY TO GET THEM MORE INVOLVED IN THE CENTER, ALSO TO GIVE THEM A VOICE. A LOT OF THEM LEFT THE ISLAND, THEY FEEL LOST. MANY OF THEM DON'T KNOW PEOPLE HERE, THIS IS A GOOD PLACE FOR THEM TO COME AND FOR US ASSIST THEM AND HELP THEM TO GET ACCLIMATED TO ARIZONA AND FEEL WELCOME.

JOSE: ARE YOU GETTING SUPPORT FROM OTHER ELEMENTS OF THE COMMUNITY?

MARLABETZ FIGUEROA: SO WHEN WE WERE DOING THE DRIVE FOR MARIA, WE WERE GETTING JUST NORMAL ARIZONANS. THEY WANTED TO DONATE AND ALSO MANY COMPANIES AND ALSO BUSINESSES, THAT ACTUALLY HELP US. WE'RE VERY THANKFUL FOR OUR COMMUNITY IN ARIZONA. JUST BECAUSE THEY CAME OUT. WE JUST TOLD THEM, HEY, WE NEED SOMETHING, AND THEY CAME OUT AND GAVE MORE THAN WE THOUGHT THEY WERE GOING TO GIVE AND WE WERE ABLE TO SEND A LOT OF SUPPLIES TO PUERTO RICO, AND A COUPLE OF OUR MEMBERS ACTUALLY FLEW THERE TO ENSURE WHEN WE GOT THE SUPPLIES THERE, THAT THE SUPPLIES WERE DISTRIBUTED WHERE THEY WERE NEEDED. IN THE AREAS OF THE MOUNTAIN, ETCETERA. THOSE ARE THE AREAS MOST OF NEED. THOSE ARE THE AREAS BASICALLY HAVE BEEN IGNORED BY THE GOVERNMENT, AND MANY OF THOSE PEOPLE IN THE MOUNTAINS DON'T HAVE ELECTRICITY OR THEY HAVE WATER-- MANY DON'T HAVE A ROOF.
JOSE: CLAUDIO, LET ME ASK YOU, WHAT ABOUT THE LATINO COMMUNITY, THE NON-PUERTO RICO LATINO COMMUNITY. ARE YOU GETTING HELP FROM THEM?

CLAUDIO MEDINA: YES, WE ARE WORKING WITH GROUPS HERE AND THEY ARE VERY, VERY SUPPORTIVE. THEY ARE SUPPORTING OUR ORGANIZATION, AND ONE THING, MANY OF THE PEOPLE WHO LIVE HERE IN THE U.S. DON'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT PUERTO RICO. THEY KNOW ABOUT RICKY MARTIN OR ALFONSI, BUT THERE ARE FACTS FROM PUERTO RICO.
JOSE: YOU ARE EDUCATING THE POPULATION HERE?

CLAUDIO MEDINA: YES.
JOSE: AS I UNDERSTAND IT, THIS IS THE LAST THING I WANT TO TOUCH ON, MARLABETZ. YOU ARE TRYING TO GET PUERTO RICANS REGISTERED TO VOTE?

MARLABETZ FIGUEROA: THAT'S CORRECT. WE DECIDED THAT IS IMPORTANT JUST BECAUSE THEY DON'T HAVE THE RIGHT TO VOTE CURRENTLY. I'M FROM PUERTO RICO ORIGINALLY. WHEN I LIVED THERE, I WAS REGISTERED TO VOTE IN PUERTO RICO BUT WASN'T ABLE TO VOTE FOR PRESIDENT OR ANY KIND OF CONGRESS OR PRESENTATION. WE WANT TO ENSURE NOW THAT THEY'RE HERE AND ESTABLISHED AND HERE WITH FAMILIES THAT PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THEY HAVE A RIGHT TO VOTE, THAT THEY CAN HAVE THEIR VOICES HEARD, AND THAT IS IMPORTANT TO VOTE AS WELL. EVEN IF WE DON'T AGREE NECESSARILY IN THE WAY THEY'RE GOING TO VOTE, ET CETERA, BUT IMPORTANT TO VOTE AND EXERCISE YOUR RIGHT TO VOTE BECAUSE WE LIVE IN A DEMOCRACY, CORRECT? SO WE WANT TO MAKE SURE THAT WHOEVER IS HERE KNOWS THAT AND WE EDUCATE THEM ON THAT AND HELP THEM THROUGH WHATEVER THEY NEED HERE, WHETHER HERE.
JOSE: THANK YOU, BOTH FOR JOINING US. GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR EFFORTS.

CLAUDIO MEDINA: THANK YOU.
JOSE: COMING UP NEXT ON "HORIZONTE," ONE GROUP COMES TOGETHER TO CHANGE THE FACE OF ANGEL INVESTING AND CREATE CAPITAL FOR WOMEN.

A federal court decision to challenge a deadline that would end shelter assistance for nearly 2000 Hurricane Maria evacuees still living in U.S hotels. Hurricane Maria, which ravaged the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico last fall. We’ll be joined by Marlabetz Figueroa, a community liaison and board member of the Puerto Rican Center of Arizona, and Claudio Medina, the executive director for the Puerto Rican Center of Arizona for more on this topic.

Sponsor message:

In this segment:

Marlabetz Figueroa, a community liaison and board member of the Puerto Rican Center of Arizona, and Claudio Medina, the executive director for the Puerto Rican Center of Arizona

Sponsor message:

Sign up to receive the Arizona PBS Insider

Get up-to-the-minute information about your favorite programs and learn more about Arizona PBS news and events.

'We'll Meet Again' begins a second season of historic and memorable reunions

Executive Producer and Reporter Ann Curry. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Berger.

Join Ann Curry for a second season of "We'll Meet Again" as she reunites individuals who helped each other through turbulent times.

'Let's Go Luna!' teaches kids about cultures around the world

"Let's Go Luna!" will debut with a one-hour special on Wednesday, Nov. 21, at 9 a.m., followed by new 30-minute episodes every weekday at 9 a.m. on Arizona PBS. 

'Sinking Cities' shows how Earth's large coastal cities prepare for future survival

"Sinking Cities" is a four-part miniseries Wednesday nights that chronicles how New York, London, Tokyo and Miami are preparing for the real-time impact of rising seas and devising colossal new construction projects.