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Still Homeless in Haiti

Still Homeless in Haiti

Source: LA Times

I went back to Haiti, where I lived last year, to reconnect with a country I love and report on how things were progressing. It was amazing to see some of the public parks open instead of covered with tents. But as I followed people moving out of those camps, and met the people still patching their tarps in camps tucked away on private lots, I noted how deep Haiti’s housing crisis is.

Advocates repeated to me that the homelessness was only worsened, not caused by the earthquake; that Haiti needs a comprehensive housing plan, not new tents, temporary shelters, or short-term rental subsidies.  A new campaign called Under Tents launched earlier this month; the campaign strives to halt evictions and is lobbying the government to create a central housing ministry.

Meanwhile, I spoke with elite Haitians who were skeptical of the people living in camps. Several middle- and upper-class Haitians accused camp residents of working the system — even two and a half years after the earthquake, when most camps receive no services. Many wealthy Haitians were ashamed of the poverty on display and wanted to present a beautiful image of Haiti.

Based on these experiences I wrote an article for the LA Times that tries to bring to life the deep seated class differences in imagination and vision of what Haiti is, should be, and should look like, through the lens of housing.


Haiti earthquake camps clearing out; problems now become hidden

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti — Facing the crumpled remnants of the national palace, an expansive plaza is punctuated by trees, benches and statues of Haitian heroes. Students read in the shade, women gossip, children play soccer.

This serene picture in Port-au-Prince’s central square might seem ordinary, but it is not. After a massive earthquake devastated Haiti’s capital on Jan. 12, 2010, about 5,000 displaced people took shelter on the square, turning it into a crowded and dangerous new neighborhood.

Now, 2 1/2 years later, the plaza known as Champs de Mars has been cleared, save for a few straggling tents.

The number of displaced Haitians has dropped from 1.5 million to just under 400,000, according to the International Organization of Migration, changing the look of a capital whose landscape was defined for many months by piles of rubble and fraying tent encampments.

But the progress is largely cosmetic. Although a few camps have benefited from aid programs, a grave underlying housing shortage means that the majority of those who left the camps have disappeared into the overcrowded homes of relatives or constructed precarious shacks in hillside slums.


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Allyn Gaestel

Allyn Gaestel is a journalist focused on international affairs and human rights. She is currently in the United States finishing documentaries from India and the Caribbean. Previously she was based in Port-au-Prince, Haiti and earlier worked as a United Nations correspondent in New York. Her background is in political science, public health, women's issues, and development. She has worked in Haiti, India, Senegal, Mali, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mauritania and the Bahamas. You can follow Allyn on twitter @AllynGaestel