An estimated 13,000 Puerto Ricans came to Connecticut after Hurricane Maria, according to The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College.
But it’s been hard to measure the storm’s full impact on the Puerto Rican community in the state.
Researchers from the University of Connecticut and Hunter College want to fix that, and they’ve been surveying hundreds of Puerto Rican evacuees in Hartford since February in a study funded by the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
At a presentation of the survey’s preliminary results, Charles Venator-Santiago said he knew that housing would be a big concern for Puerto Rican evacuees. Housing subsidies and public housing were in short supply in Hartford before the hurricane hit.
But Venator-Santiago said he was surprised that many of the evacuee families he interviewed were also struggling to put food on the table.
“We’re also finding out that the level of poverty is much higher,” Venator-Santiago said. “In other words, there are a lot of people living with less than $7,500 a year.”
Venator-Santiago is an associate professor at UConn. He and his team has collected over 1,000 interviews from hurricane evacuee with the goal of understanding the needs of the Puerto Rican community after Maria. Housing still remains at the top of the list.
He said Puerto Rico’s economic crisis has kept many families from returning to the island.
“Those who are staying here, are telling us that they’re here because they don’t have work at home,” Santiago said. “It’s not necessarily because they don’t have access to a home. It’s that they don’t have jobs that enable them to survive in Puerto Rico.”
Venator-Santiago said evacuees who were able to return to the island left in the months following the storm. Those who have stayed are now figuring out if they’ll be able to live in Connecticut for the long term.