On the tenth day of operation Friday, Orlando’s Hispanic Office for Local Assistance (HOLA) has helped more than 1,000 Puerto Ricans find food, shelter and jobs after arriving at Orlando International Airport.

Ana Cruz, HOLA Coordinator, said the work has been both rewarding and frustrating.

“We’ve seen people arrive with just a backpack full of clothes and nowhere to stay,” said Cruz, who guides the Puerto Rican evacuees to the United Way, which can give them a hotel voucher to stay three to four days. “Most of the Puerto Ricans are staying with friends or family, but unfortunately we are in need of affordable housing for those that have no place to stay.”

The City of Orlando has a higher population of Puerto Ricans than San Juan and opened the HOLA 13 years ago. In addition to the 1,000 helped at the airport, HOLA’s Orlando office has helped another 4,000 individuals since Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

“Everyone I’ve seen coming out of Puerto Rico has major damage,” said Peter Sessum, FEMA spokesman. FEMA has a team stationed at OIA’s reception center.

Sussum said FEMA has 70 teams going door-to-door in Florida assessing damage and has helped more than 65,000 people statewide following Hurricane Irma.

HOLA and FEMA staffers joined about a dozen other social service agencies working at the airport’s reception center, which will soon move to larger quarters at the new South Terminal. The agencies include: the American Red Cross, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, the Florida Department of Health, the Florida Department of Children and Families, and the City of Orlando.

New arrivals from Puerto Rico can get a Florida driver’s license, apply for FEMA benefits or register their children into Orange County Public Schools at the reception center.

Jessibeth Rodriquez said she and her husband plan to put their son in school and look for jobs in Orlando She said they had major roof damage to their home in Juncos, Puerto Rico, and are applying for FEMA benefits. Rodriguez said she had no idea how long they will stay in Orlando.

Jomayra Jusino, 19, said she plans to enroll in school and get a job at a store or daycare center. Jusino’s grandmother met her at the airport Friday and helped her through the reception center.

“It’s all just overwhelming,” she said.

The reception center will continue to greet Puerto Ricans at OIA through Nov. 6.

About The Author

The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.

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