Donations, help still needed for Puerto Rico evacuees

(Western Mass News photo)

The influx of families from Puerto Rico continues nine months after the island was devastated by Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

In Holyoke, the numbers are staggering.

Enlace de Familia in Holyoke helps families in the community and now, after the devastation from the hurricanes in Puerto Rico, hundreds and hundreds of people have evacuated to Holyoke.

"We have approximately over 1,000 families who have walked through the door at Enlace de Familias and that's families and not family members. That numbers get tripled and quadrupled easily," said Betty Medina Lichtenstein with Enlace de Familia.

Thousands of people have come through Enlace de Familias to get support - state and federal help, as well as things like housing and furniture.

Some couches and chairs will soon be in a new permanent home. A supply room has clothes and diapers.

Lichtenstein told Western Mass News that the influx has slowed down in recent weeks, but at one time, it seemed impossible to get everyone settled.

"There was one week, I believe in November, we had 144 families in one week. We are a staff of five." Lichtenstein noted.

Once the families are out of emergency mode, they settle into a new life, but not one they ever anticipated.

Surgeons, doctors, nurses and teachers are all in entry level jobs because their licenses on the island don't translate.

"We have doctors that are CNAs and nurses that are housekeepers, teachers that are aids," Lichtenstein added.

It's this trend of professionals not able to use their skills that worries Lichtenstein about the future.

"The sad part about it is that they are not able to work in the profession they have been educated in and have worked in for years. What we have found is that there are mental health issues after." Lichtenstein explained.

Lichtenstein is hoping to soon find a way to help this mental health issue that will continue to worsen should people choose to stay here.

However, for now, they have to help hundreds of people find permanent homes.

Lichtenstein said that there is still so much that these families need, like clean towels, sheets, and gift cards just to get them started. They said that they are still looking for donations.

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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