The Underground helps Puerto Ricans displaced by hurricane

- Eight months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria hammered Puerto Rico, church groups are stepping up their effort to help those who have resettled permanently in Florida.

One group near USF has helped nearly 3,000 people navigate the difficulties of starting life anew.

"There was no electricity, everything was torn down," said Rosa Nieves Cintron, whose home in Puerto Rico was destroyed.

Within weeks of the hurricane, she had no choice but to join her four adult children in Florida. 

Put up by FEMA in a Tampa hotel, she visited The Underground Tampa's offices to see about getting furniture for when her Section 8 housing voucher activates in May and she can get her own apartment.

"They gave me beds. They gave me comforters. They gave me towels," said Cintron.

The umbrella group for dozens of faith-based outlets in the Bay Area has arranged for 2,800 Puerto Rican refugees who are re-starting life to get jobs, housing, furniture, medical benefits, and a host of other things that have been donated.

"We prepare toiletries bags," said Dammy Sanchez, The Underground's Organizer. "We have clothing. We have car seats, we have pillows."

Sanchez said the group started almost by accident.

"We started doing drives, sending foods and other stuff to Puerto Rico," said Sanchez. "Then we realized what is going to happen when the people come here."

They described that many placed in jobs are actually overqualified. 

Many were lawyers or white-collar professionals in Puerto Rico but discovered their licenses aren't valid here.

"They are willing to take a paralegal job, a secretarial job, we need employers that open the doors," Sanchez said.

The Underground says its next goal is to start English classes, to help those forced from their homes truly have a fresh start.

"I am not asking for everything," said Cintron. "At least a bed to sleep on."

Sen. Nelson visited the center on Thursday and said FEMA has agreed to extend its housing assistance for Puerto Rican refugees until June 30.

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