Friday, January 22, 2010

Haiti's new homeless problem

Haiti's earthquake demolished at least every other building in Port-au-Prince. So a big challenge has been finding shelter for all of the new homeless people. Tent camps are springing up everywhere, and some of those may exist for some time to come.

With the tens of thousands of new homeless people, aid groups have been unable get enough tents to all of them. The lack of tents leave many vulnerable to the elements or grabbing any piece of fabric to live under. Many fear that they could still be without shelter during the upcoming rainy season.

From this New York Times article writers Ray Rivera and Damien Cave examine this problem.

“A lot of these people have maybe a sheet on four sticks over their heads right now,” said Niurka Piñeiro, a spokeswoman for the International Organization for Migration. “It’s really urgent that we get these tents so we can provide a little better cover from the elements.”

Haitian and international officials, aware that these camps may become permanent, are hotly debating locations. In Phase 2 of the plan, private companies would be contracted to build apartment complexes and homes with the help of residents living in the tents.

“We are hoping that this concentration of people will lead to work,” said Patrick Delatour, the minister of tourism, after a meeting with President René Préval. “They will help build their own housing.”

Officials with the migration agency have argued for sites inside cities close to employment, while Haitian government ministers have stressed the need to build as much shelter as fast as possible.

Already, work has begun on government land near the suburb of Croix des Bouquets. United Nations troops from Brazil have begun leveling the ground in preparation for a tent city for around 30,000 people. Officials hope to house 100,000 people with the dozen or so sites selected so far, which include the lawn of the prime minister’s office, but getting the tents to Haiti remains a difficult challenge.

A handful arrived Wednesday, and a larger shipment from Turkey and other countries came Thursday, but Ms. Piñeiro said thousands more would be needed. “We are really looking for family-sized tents,” she said. “But at this point, we’ll take anything.”

Patricia Legros is living in a bus-long shamble of blue tarps and shower curtains with an American flag for a door. She lives with her parents, a brother, cousins, neighbors. There is an artist, a taxi driver, a police officer, a tailor — 30 people in all. They sleep side by side on mattresses pulled from the rubble. Each night three of the men stand guard by firelight to keep cars from running them down.

Charles Mary René, 22, who has been living on a blanket in Toussaint Louverture Square here since the earthquake with her 3-year-old son and his father, Eddy Leonard, said that during the few times it rained, they just sat and got soaked. “What could we do, we have nowhere to go,” she said.

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