In the tight hotel room in Midtown Manhattan that became her home for six months, Andrea Tejeda, 27, holds back tears. “This is our last week here and they haven’t told us anything,” she said. “I can’t psychologically bear it anymore.”

Tejeda and her 5-year-old daughter Jadieliz Padilla are among more than a hundred Puerto Rican families staying in New York City hotels sponsored by FEMA after Hurricane Maria. That federal support is about to end, as Saturday is the last of three extensions of FEMA’s Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program.

Until Tuesday, the only options these families had left were go back to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico or stay in New York and try to enter the shelter system. But just four days before the deadline, New York City announced that all the families will be transferred to hotels administered by the city’s The Department of Homeless Services and given access to other city services.

“The Trump administration abandoned the people of Puerto Rico. Our mayor will not. We will shelter our fellow U.S. citizens, and we will do all we can to help them to get back on their feet,” said mayoral spokesperson Jaclyn Rothenberg.

But some say local government isn't going far enough. Evacuees were hoping that the June 30 deadline would give the city and state enough time to relocate them to a rental apartment and help them to find a job, but that wasn't the case. One more time, they feel they have been left in a limbo.

“If it had been addressed 8 months ago, 7 months ago, 6 months ago, it would have cost a lot less money, the psychological trauma would have been less,” said Peter Gudaitis, CEO of The New York Disaster Interfaith Services (NYDIS), a non-profit group that worked at the city’s Hurricane Relief Center. Gudaitis said that all levels of government have fallen short in terms of support for Puerto Rican evacuees.

NYDIS estimates there are still up to 9,000 evacuees from Maria living in New York City. While many are staying with relatives, 230 have gone to city shelters. Some received vouchers from the NYC government, but according to NYDIS, they have been facing difficulties finding landlords who will accept them.

It’s not the first time the prospect of homelessness has come so close. On April 19, Tejeda joined a group to protest their imminent eviction after she received messages from FEMA and from the City, with only days notice that they would not be able to provide shelter anymore. After pressure from advocates and evacuees, FEMA resumed paying the bill until May 14 and then moved the deadline to June 30.

On June 1, her birthday, Tejeda sat through a two-hour meeting between members of the New York City administration, City Council members, FEMA and non-profits who discussed the fate of Puerto Rican evacuees.

“They fought between each other and we mostly listened to them instead of them listening to us,” she said.

Two weeks later, with no response from these agencies about a housing plan, she decided to go back to San Juan because she doesn’t want to be left on the street with a young child.

Tejeda had previously applied for a rent voucher distributed by New York City, but was not considered eligible. She said she never received an explanation why.

“How can we wait for so long, why can’t they help us?,” Tejeda said. “They will never worry about us because they have a safe roof, they have a calm sleep, they eat healthily. We don’t.”

Out of desperation, she decided to accept FEMA’s plane ticket to go back to Puerto Rico on Friday June 29. At least other 12 families also booked their tickets and four have already returned to Puerto Rico, according to FEMA.

The city “thought it was under control,” said Luz Correa, chair of the Bronx Coalition Supporting Hurricane Maria Evacuees. In her opinion, city officials presumed families would “go to the shelter and they thought that it was fine.”

Over 100 households have FEMA Transitional Shelter Assistance, and Correa was worried about how the shelter system will absorb all the remaining evacuees at one time, especially people with disabilities and health issues. “It is a victory, the city is picking up the cost so each family is out of the shelter system,” she said.

She credits the change to a small group of advocates, including NYDIS and the Bronx Coalition, who pushed for meetings with the mayor and City Council members. “There was no one taking leadership on this topic at the City Hall, no one.”

When asked why the city waited until so close to the deadline to address the evacuees, Jose Bayona, Director of Community & Ethnic Media in the mayor's office, said, "We were looking for the best way to help these families."

Jadieliz looks out from the hotel room window (Maite H. Mateo)

Despite the city's commitment to sheltering evacuees in hotels administered by the Department of Homeless Services, Tejeda is still returning to Puerto Rico. She doesn’t view the city’s services as reliable and has already experienced a Manhattan shelter that was infested with cockroaches. She also cited her daughter’s deteriorating mental health as yet another reason to leave. Jadieliz is “anxious and crying,” she said on Wednesday morning.

For Tejeda, surviving in New York City has been a daily struggle over the past months. She receives $352 a month from the city to spend on food, but she’s been skipping lunch because she can’t cook in the hotel and food at nearby restaurants is expensive. She said she often eats nothing until a dinner of rice with ketchup and canned sausage.

Her goal was to find an apartment so she can have a stable and safe life to provide an education for her daughter and pursue her own ambitions to work as a police officer. On May 8, she got a part-time job as a college assistant for $7.25 an hour in Queens, but the money was not enough to pay a rent.

She quit her job in New York City and will be unemployed when she arrives in San Juan. There, Tejeda and her daughter will live with her parents and two adult brothers in a small 3-bedroom public housing apartment.

Correa, from the Bronx Coalition, said the ones that will remain here “are people who have health needs, kids with special needs, or are concerned about their kids’ education, or don’t have jobs to go back to.”

Coming to New York wasn’t an easy decision. But Tejeda said she felt compelled to leave Puerto Rico, not just because their public housing was uninhabitable after the Hurricane. Safety was also a concern for her after her five-year-old daughter witnessed a murder while they were staying at her mother’s home in San Juan. That came a year after the slaying of Tejeda’s ex-husband. Now, they will return to the same place the traumatic experience occurred.

In the weeks immediately following the hurricane, the NYC government tried to dissuade evacuees from settling in the city. At an October 12 news conference Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city didn’t have a housing plan for Puerto Rican hurricane evacuees, although he promised education and health services. “I don’t want to encourage people to come here if they don’t have some family to turn to,” he said.

Beyond losing their homes and possessions, many families feel they cannot rebuild their lives in Puerto Rico because of the slow recovery from the September storm. Power outages continue across the island and officials recently announced plans to permanently close 265 schools, which has been challenged by judges.

In San Juan, Tejeda lived in a two-bedroom apartment on the 20th floor and could see the ocean from her balcony. The hurricane broke all the windows and flooded her home. Her furniture, clothes and her daughter’s toys were destroyed by mold and none of the apartments in Tejeda’s government-owned building have been repaired.

The city and Puerto Rico government “destroyed my dream," Tejeda said. "I wanted to give a good education to my daughter and serve the community with my bachelor's degree in criminal justice."

Paula Moura is a multimedia journalist from Brazil and currently a graduate student at the City University of New York. She has contributed to major American news outlets such as The New York Times, NPR and The Washington Post.

This story was produced in collaboration with Feet In 2 Worlds, an award-winning news site and journalism training project of the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School. See more stories from Feet in 2 Worlds' latest online magazine, Life After Maria: Puerto Rico, Climate Change and Migration at