Profiles in Recovery and Rebuilding: Lucha Contra el SIDA
By Erika Ruiz, Director, Enterprise Advisors
In 2017 Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria wrought destruction across communities from the Gulf Coast to Puerto Rico, disrupting lives and destroying homes. As part of our recovery and rebuilding work, Enterprise created the Enterprise Hurricane Community Recovery Fund to support short-term relief and longer-term efforts in the most heavily damaged areas.
This is the third post in a Q&A blog series with leaders from nonprofits that received fund support to serve low-income residents displaced by the storm. Previously, we've talked with The Alliance for Multicultural Community Services and Centro Campesino Farmworker Center, Inc.
- Organization: Lucha Contra el SIDA (LUCHA)
- Location: San Juan, Puerto Rico
- Grant amount: $35,000
Lucha Contra el SIDA (LUCHA) develops, builds and manages housing for low-income families. LUCHA’s mission is to develop and promote programs that stimulate positive social change and benefit the community. Grant funds support relief efforts at six of LUCHA's housing and supportive services facilities.
What were the needs after Hurricanes Irma and Maria?
Ramfis J. Perez, Executive Director, and Manuel Santos Hernandez, Property Manager: After Irma, we lost power and we lost communication. Our issues were primarily related to energy but the residents weren’t affected. Irma wasn’t strong but it reminded us of past disasters, and we asked ourselves: Are we prepared?
We weren’t prepared for Maria. We never imagined that we could lose communication to that extent.
The logistics of not being able to communicate with residents and employees was very frustrating. The day after the hurricane, we were able to go to our properties. Luckily, some of our staff were also able to stay in the properties with residents.
Our biggest needs were water, diesel fuel for generators and communication. There was a panic – you couldn’t get more than $20 of gas, so people thought there was no more fuel on the island.
It was traumatic. But this motivated us even further to make sure employees were there for residents and each other. We have employees who have lost homes, and some who were rejected by FEMA, and some who couldn’t leave their neighborhood. We made sure to support them, too.
How did LUCHA get involved?
RP & MH: It was hard, but it was our obligation. We were successful in making repairs to our buildings such as improvements to our common areas.
We were mission-oriented, checking the damages and needs, and figuring out how we were going to meet them. We knew we had to implement a plan and manage the logistics.
This was a disaster but also an opportunity to bring the economy forward.
We got water, diesel and food for communities – but our last development to have power restored didn’t receive electricity and water until late February.
We tried to relocate who we could where structures were damaged. None of our units were closed. We cleaned the debris and implemented sensible measures to continue to provide a high standard of health and safety.
We used our trucks to transport water cisterns and diesel. We provided residents with thousands of hot meals. We did it all while the banks were closed and people were standing in line to get cash. But we made sure that we had had the funds to cover what we were spending.
What were the biggest challenges?
RP & MH: Lack of communication, energy and water were the biggest challenges. We realized we have to go old-school to prepare for the next storms and use analog phones.
What needs to be done now?
RP & MH: All repairs must be completed. We’ve done 75 percent of the repairs without anyone being relocated.
We must amend our emergency plans to be more prepared. We must be more united and establish shared protocols. We need better planning and communication.
We need to build more repositories so we have sufficient supplies and food on hand.
What is needed to protect your communities from the next storm?
RP & MH: Organizing the community before the storm is important so we can work in teams. Residents and the community showed strong leadership and we want to maintain that. They took the initiative to begin cleaning up and checking in with each other. That helped us to establish a community kitchen for hot food.
What have you learned from this experience?
RP & MH: We’ve learned that we have to focus on renewable energy. And while we have been working on recovery efforts, we must make preparation a priority. The emergency systems, the government, the community and organizations are not ready for the next disaster.