Public Advocate Letitia James pressed the city Thursday to ready itself to help displaced people from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that might come to New York.
James said the city needs to prepare to offer aid to those fleeing the devastation of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“Make no mistake: This is a full-scale humanitarian crisis,” she said.
“So as a city with a significant Puerto Rican and West Indian population, we must anticipate an influx of arrivals of these displaced Americans,” James added, emphasizing they are American citizens. “Now is the time to plan our response so we can help the most vulnerable without being overwhelmed by the need.”
James proposed several initiatives across a range of topics, including expanding a homeless diversion program for New Yorkers who host displaced people and providing Spanish-speaking staff to help with identifying housing options. Many, she said, would likely stay with relatives.
James also proposed waiving the residency requirement to obtain an IDNYC card and said food pantry and soup kitchen services should be expanded. She also said the city should consider opening armories in the city to help with short-term housing needs.
James admitted the cost of the proposals wasn’t clear, but the number of people coming to New York also wasn’t clear, she said.
In an unrelated news conference Thursday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city was preparing for an influx of Puerto Ricans, but warned that resources were already under “tremendous strains, including housing.”
“I don’t want to encourage people to come here if they don’t have some family to turn to,” he said. “We have to be really clear about this.”
Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on SUNY and CUNY schools to allow those affected by the hurricanes to pay in-state tuition rates to attend the school.
Carlos Martinez, 67, has several family members in Puerto Rico, including his oldest son, grandchildren and his stepfather, a veteran who is struggling to land a doctor visit. He was low on medicine, Martinez said, and was told he couldn’t get an appointment until next year.
Martinez, who was born in New York, said his family is planning to stay and rebuild, but he hopes the infrastructure is in place in New York to help them if they can’t.
“If things don’t go as well as they should, they may be coming this way,” he said. “I’m hoping that people can live, mainly. That’s the bottom line.”
With Matthew Chayes