City to help displaced hurricane victims, families at new Manhattan center

A service center dedicated to helping people displaced by recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Texas and Florida will open later this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

The center, set to open Thursday, will offer access to city services and in-person support from a range of government offices, including social services, health and mental hygiene, education and senior services. Representatives from the American Red Cross, New York Disaster Interfaith Services, Animal Care and Control and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will also be on hand to help people affected by the recent hurricanes.

“We’ve been sending donations and emergency responders to affected areas, and now we’re setting up a central location to help displaced people in our city receive essential services and assistance,” the mayor said in an emailed statement.

The center will be supported through existing city services and staff, according to a spokeswoman from the mayor’s office, who declined to specify the cost of the initiative.

Services will be provided at the Julia De Burgos Latino Cultural Center, at 1680 Lexington Ave. in East Harlem. Hours will be 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 nyc.gov or calling 311.

City agencies have already begun to prepare for what officials anticipate will be an influx of displaced people from hurricane-ravaged areas, particularly residents from Puerto Rico. De Blasio said earlier in October that public schools are ready to receive students relocating from Puerto Rico, and health and human services officials were assessing how the city can assist anyone arriving with particular health care needs.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito said on Monday that the city must step up where “the federal government has come up short,” apparently referencing what some have criticized as a slow response from the Trump administration after Hurricane Maria swept over Puerto Rico.

“This is a humanitarian crisis the likes [of which] our city has ever experienced and we must do everything we can to help our fellow Puerto Ricans who have given so much to our city and to our country,” said Mark-Viverito, who visited the island in the aftermath of Maria.

New York City has one of the largest Puerto Rican populations in the country, with 700,000 residents of Puerto Rican descent, according to census figures.

Last week, Public Advocate Letitia James called on the de Blasio administration to do more to prepare for an influx of displaced people and proposed a range of initiatives.

Although de Blasio has said the city is preparing, he also warned last week that resources were already tight.

“I don’t want to encourage people to come here if they don’t have some family to turn to,” de Blasio said at unrelated news conference on Thursday. “We have to be really clear about this.”

The state is also working to help victims of the hurricanes. Earlier in October, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called on SUNY and CUNY schools to allow those affected by the hurricanes to pay in-state tuition rates to attend.

With Alison Fox and Laura Figueroa

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