Connecticut officials say they have tracked nearly 700 phone calls seeking help for people displaced from Puerto Rico on the state’s social services number since just days after Hurricane Maria plowed through the island last month.
Scott DeVico, Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection spokesman, said state officials still are not sure how many Puerto Ricans fleeing the devastation will seek permanent or temporary refuge in Connecticut.
“While it doesn’t represent the exact number, it gives a representation of the amount of resources that are needed,” DeVico said.
DeVico said a coordinated state government effort to assist people coming from the hurricane-ravaged island has become one of the state’s top priorities. Connecticut has about 278,000 people of Puerto Rican descent.
The state’s 2-1-1 information line allows callers to inquire about resources like food, housing, clothing and healthcare. DeVico estimated waves of Puerto Ricans will come to the state over months.
People fleeing the island are mostly seeking to meet basic needs, 2-1-1 Research Analyst and Community Outreach Coordinator Annie Scully said. Many Puerto Ricans are staying with family and friends for now, but they will need housing in the future, she said.
Yanil Terón, executive director of the Center for Latino Progress in Hartford, said bringing Puerto Rico’s elderly to Connecticut is a big concern.
“They are staying in an environment they are not used to — the conditions are worse there, but when you are transported to a new place it’s really hard because you don’t have the social connection you used to have,” Teron said.
Certain areas in Connecticut are proving to need greater resources, Scully said. Calls received show Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury and New Britain are all high-need locations, she said.
Government officials have arranged for workers from 2-1-1, The American Red Cross, The Salvation Army and other state agencies to greet incoming Puerto Ricans as they come off direct flights from San Juan to Hartford.
“People are devastated about losing their homes; they are anxious about being in a new community,” Scully said. “They are sometimes coming for the first time, but it’s been wonderful to see families reuniting.”