evacuees

Puerto Rico National Guard by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos

Like many Puerto Ricans who fled to the mainland after Hurricane Maria, Jose Santiago has been scrambling to find a place to live. The federal vouchers that pay for his hotel room near the Orlando airport expire at checkout time Friday.

Ariana Colón’s 1-year-old son Sebastian shows off his first word – “Mamá” – as she speaks with me over the phone from the hotel room in Kissimmee, Florida, where they’ve been living this year.

Along with Sebastian’s father, they arrived there shortly after Hurricane Maria devastated their home island, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, last September.

The family has benefited from a federal program for disaster victims called Transitional Sheltering Assistance. It pays their hotel tab while they find gainful employment and permanent housing.

But meeting landlord conditions for that housing has proven as difficult for Puerto Ricans like Colón as it so often does for longtime Florida residents.