Puerto Rico’s homelessness crisis on the rise after recent earthquakes

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Published
February 6, 2020
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Recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico have debilitated and collapsed homes, schools, and businesses, leaving many with no choice but to sleep in designated shelters.

As Puerto Rico continues to recover from the devastating consequences of Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which made landfall in 2017, the island now faces additional challenges surrounding homelessness due to recent earthquakes.

A series of earthquakes affecting the south and southwestern regions of Puerto Rico have been reported since late December. A 6.4 magnitude earthquake, the strongest, was felt on January 7. The ongoing earthquakes have debilitated and collapsed homes, schools, and businesses, leaving many with no choice but to sleep in designated shelters. According to the El Nuevo Dia newspaper, around 2,000 people are staying at 16 shelters set up by the Department of Housing, including 3 main base camps. Additionally, it is estimated that another 3,000 refugees are living in camps managed by the citizens themselves. 

The conditions of the camps deteriorated as puddles of water accumulated from recent rainfall. This raises public health concerns, as standing water facilitates mosquito breeding, which can potentially increase the incidence of Dengue, Zika, and Chikungunya transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito. Even as government authorities continue to improve the conditions of camps, the uncertainty of safe emergency housing is of great concern.

On January 16, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared the island a major disaster zone. As a consequence, $9,065,666.10 was approved under the Individuals and Households Program for disaster relief, effective on February 5. FEMA assistance can include temporary housing, emergency home repairs, medical expenses for uninsured, dental and funeral expenses caused by the natural disaster. As of February 5,  approximately 4,000 individual assistance applications have been approved, yet an estimated 11,000 federal disaster applications have been submitted, effective on January 24. The delay in assistance approval could extend refugee stays in shelters and camps, prolonging homelessness for those affected.

— by Nicole Mercado