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Hurricane relief center opens in East Harlem

EAST HARLEM, Manhattan — New York City opened its Hurricane Service Center Monday. The Center, housed inside the Julia De Burgos Latino Cultural Center, will  assist residents of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who are relocating to the city for short-term or long-term stays following the recent hurricanes.

“The city is here. We're open and we want to be able to help you. The Center here isn't federal resources; it isn't state resources - it’s city resources and the purpose of this is to make sure people are getting comfortable here in New York City,” saidAssistant Commissioner for Community Outreach Herman Schaffer.

New York City is a large and complex town to navigate. The Center provides one-stop shopping in assistance. Tables are set up side by side. Nearly every city agency  is represented as well as the America Red Cross,  non-profit organizations and community-based organizations.  The goal is help connect families and individuals to critical services, including enrollment in public benefits and health insurance, food assistance and mental health counseling.

“The largest thing we are hearing is, people need support. The majority are living with friends and family, which is not sustainable. So they’re looking for a way to move forward, they’re looking for a way to settle their life, get their kids in school, to connect to resources here in the city. Many of them have never had to deal with New York City and so we’re hoping that bringing everyone together, bringing a coordinated effort to lessen the burden they have in a large and complex town,” added Schaffer.

Right now, one thing the city cannot provide is housing. But they can assist families in areas like obtaining food stamps, medical services, getting kids in school - returning some sense of normalcy as they rebuild their lives in their temporary home.

“I have my daughter. I stay with my brother on Long Island. I'm going from one place to another place. I'm sleeping on a mattress on the floor, the situation for me is very difficult,” said 74-year-old Ilia Rodriquez.

Rodriquez takes pride in being self-sufficient and  independent. She's never needed to ask for help before.  Ms. Rodriquez lost her son Carlos, a paramedic, in 9/11 as he rushed into the World Trade Center to save lives. Losing her home in Puerto Rico pales in comparison to the tragedy of losing her son, but it's been an emotional time nonetheless.

“Never, ever (have I ever had to ask for help), this situation is very embarrassing for me but I have to do it,” said Rodriquez as she wiped away tears.

“Now I can’t go back anyway because everything is lost, I have no power, no water, so I have to stay here,” added Rodriquez.

She’s expecting to stay in New York City for a while and anticipates it will take years for Puerto Rico to recover.

On its first day, the Center assisted 75 families. It will be open daily from 9-5 and the city says it's prepared to keep it running  for as long as there's a need.