City Councilor Calls For Better Response To Puerto Rican Evacuees
NEW BEDFORD - The devastation left in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria may be considered “old news” by today's standards, but it still sits fresh in the mind of one city councilor.
City Councilor Hugh Dunn is calling on the city to temporarily open its emergency overflow shelter to evacuees from Puerto Rico. Dunn introduced the idea at a City Council Appointments and Briefings Committee meeting on October 19th and expressed his concerns with the Mitchell Administration's slow response in assisting displaced Puerto Rican families with housing.
During the meeting, Dunn shared his knowledge of two mothers with four children each who were staying at an area hotel off of funding from the New Bedford Housing Authority. Dunn explained that once the funding is gone the families will effectively become homeless.
“These folks are coming to New Bedford and they'll have nowhere to stay,” Hugh Dunn said in an interview with WBSM News. “I know that on Saturday there will be two families with four children each that will be homeless, and I don't know what to tell these people.”
Dunn says the Director of Community Services, Cindy Wallquist, said she could not confirm if the Mayor's office had contacted the state legislature, federal delegation, or any non-profit resources like the Massachusetts Puerto Rico Fund.
“The issue is that I can't identify a coordinated plan to house these people,” Dunn explained. “I think we need a strategy for these families to keep them off the street. You can't get your life together if you have no home and that's why I'm calling on the city to open up the overflow shelters and create spaces where these people can live and get their lives together.”
When Hurricane Maria hit about a month ago, Dunn spearheaded a motion that passed in council chambers which called for a letter to be sent to the mayor asking him to prepare for the evacuees. He credits the housing authority, school system and United Way for their contributions, but says the city government needs to step up and provide even more resources, especially housing, to the evacuees.
“Providing a roof over the heads of these people is critical. This is an extraordinary time and I know the shelters are reserved for extreme weather but this disaster in Puerto Rico calls for a more proactive response from our city,” Dunn said. “Raising the Puerto Rican flag at city hall is nice, but it's more important to put a roof over these American's heads,” he said.
He continued to state that he expects the City of New Bedford to utilize any existing resources to help these families, and future arrivals of evacuees from Puerto Rico.
“These folks are leaving a place that looks like it just went through an apocalypse. I hope that we find a coordinated way to house these folks,” said Dunn.
Mayor Jon Mitchell's office says the mayor and multiple local agencies including the Community Services department, Health department, and New Bedford Public Schools, along with Greater New Bedford Community Health Center, United Way of Greater New Bedford, Catholic Social Services, PACE, New Bedford Housing Authority, and the Inter Church Council have met to discuss the best steps to situate Puerto Rican evacuees that have sought New Bedford for refuge. During the meeting, the group identified a lead agency to be the local central registration point for anyone arriving in the city in the hurricane’s aftermath, guiding them to housing possibilities, healthcare providers, and assisting them with registering in school.
Mitchell's office says the mayor has also personally reached out to the Lt. Governor on this issue, especially as it relates to cities seeking to help new arrivals.