Hurricane Survivors Pack New York City Service Center for Help

Posted on October 23, 2017 by Alice Kenny  |  Share

Refugees from recent hurricanes, particularly Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, are fleeing in records numbers to family in New York City, home to one of the largest Puerto Rican populations in the nation.  These displaced persons are turning for help to a new city service center, a one-stop shop for critical services set up for them by New York City and supported by Catholic Charities, the American Red Cross and more.  Find out what it is like on the front lines in this first-person report by Catholic Charities Case Management Supervisor Jose Jimenez.

By Jose Jimenez and Juan Canales

Catholic Charities Case Management 


The new service center for displaced people from Puerto Rico just opened last week, October 19, 2017, and already our staff helped dozens of people navigate overwhelming needs.  People came with their children. Some were crying.   

Most of the families we spoke to were from rural areas (such as Carolina, Caguas, and Guaynabo). While most of the families are staying with relatives, all of them were seeking assistance with finding a more permanent housing solution. We are giving out gift cards and transportation cards to reach medical appointments while providing information on housing, logistics and services.

Families we met with saw their homes in Puerto Rico completely wiped out, having lost all of their belongings, and do not see how they could go back anytime soon. Many are now staying on a couch or in a space that is not meant to be inhabited.

Some disabled clients are staying with families who live in walkups and found it difficult to make the trek to the service center. Some of the individuals we saw were separated from their spouses and children, who ended up going to other states to stay with their families who had room for them. Some mentioned that they would like to reunify once they figure out which location would be best suited for their family's needs.

Since Hurricane Maria destroyed everything they owned, they are looking for all types of assistances from housing to employment, winter clothing, insurance, assistance from Human Resources Administration, cash assistance, English classes and emergency food. They also need Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA) to repair their homes although FEMA is not at the Service Center in East Harlem.

Apart from housing, these families are looking for clothing as colder weather approaches and assistance with transportation to doctor's appointments and NYC centers to apply for benefits. We saw families from all walks of life, including some that seemed new to asking for help. We spoke with elderly individuals who were seeking medical assistance and a young college student who had been displaced in the middle of their semester. Many mothers with children approached us for assistance. Luckily, we found that many of them had already matriculated their kids in school; some of the mothers with young babies were really struggling emotionally.

We helped an elderly man over 70 years old looking for senior housing.  We helped a disabled couple staying with family in an upper level walk-up apartment looking for housing with disability accommodations, an elevator or on a ground floor.  We helped a woman who once lived in New York City, relocated to Puerto Rico, and now, after losing all she had to the hurricane had to move into her daughter’s apartment in Queens where eight people shares two rooms. And we helped a number of people whose needs are so basic and extensive, including needing food from our Catholic Charities food pantries. They also wanted information about schools and services in the boroughs where they are now staying.

Most people are from Puerto Rico and are providing us with their phone numbers which has the Puerto Rico area code. There are also other people from other small islands looking for assisting like St. Croix, Virgin Islands and St. Thomas.

Catholic Charities is here to help.

The new service center is located at the Julia De Burgos Latino Cultural Center, 1680 Lexington Ave. in East Harlem. Center hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays. 

Anyone looking for assistance can set up an appointment ahead of time, beginning Wednesday, by visiting or calling 311.
Catholic Charities of New York is serving as a conduit for donations for Puerto Rico Relief and Recovery efforts.

“With over a million Puerto Rican-Americans that call our state home, New Yorkers should do all we can to help our family and friends on the island." - Msgr. Kevin Sullivan


Catholic Charities of New York is serving as a conduit for donations for Puerto Rico Relief and Recovery efforts.

Donate by Mail: Make checks payable to “Catholic Charities/Estoy Con Puerto Rico” and address to:

Catholic Charities/Estoy Con Puerto Rico, 1011 First Avenue, 11th floor, New York, NY 10022

Donate Online:  Visit 

On the web form, type “Estoy con Puerto Rico” in the text field below ”Optional: Designate Your Contribution”

Learn more about our recent disaster relief efforts:


Catholic Charities is responding to the needs of our neighbors during the 
COVID-19 pandemic.

For Help Call 888-744-7900