Friday, April 25, 2014

Living in tents; in their village and in mine

Living in tents
Homeless in their villages and in mine……

When I ride from the airport to the ferry in Port Au Prince, I can see that there are still many tent communities.  It is not like it was in 2010, when I first traveled to Haiti as a midwife.  There are far fewer.  I have come to see that the world sees the presence of these tent communities as a sign of failure and a symbol of Haiti’s problems.  In this section, of my blog, I am attempting to look at my own community through these same lenses.  If it is a sign of failure that some families are homeless in Haiti, is it any less a sign of failure if families are homeless in my own community?  Are the causes more universal that we would like to think?

Tent Community in Haiti

Are more people homeless in Haiti or the United States?
Do the same international economic powers create housing insecurity in both places?
 From the truck, I watch as a woman leaves her tent with a plastic jug to go get water.  Her tent community is neatly laid out in rows.  I can see that the tents are too close together to offer the many functions of a Haitien yard where women cook, wash clothes, and do all their household tasks.  I can see that this is not possible but then the new housing projects also seem to have not realized the need for yards to work in.  They are brightly colored houses lined up in rows with very little yard or common area.  They remind me of the Malvina Reynolds song.  “Little Boxes” about post War World II housing in San Francisco.  They remind me of our own failed housing projects in all of the United States’ major cities; the ones they later called the “projects”.   These housing projects also ignored the need for common space and community and the work of the yard.

The newspapers report that 400,000 people in Haiti still do not have a permanent home.  It is usually presented as a part of an article on corruption, the failure of NGO’s or the fact that the aide that was promised never made it to the people it was promised to.  Well meaning people, stop me on the street, to tell me what they have read.  They shake their head and wonder why I go back.  I am not sure what I am supposed to say.  

It is morning in Oregon and it is pouring rain.  A family, who cannot find permanent housing, is sleeping in my yurt.   The yurt is also a tent.  They have two small children.   What was suppose to be a quick stay while they look for a house has turned into a soul searching look at what it means to be without a house in my own village. 

Tent community in the United States

The bright, beautiful little girl is not the only one living amidst what is called housing insecurity.  The Point In Time Count estimated that 474 other families were also camping in cars, sleeping on sofas, living in campers and saying in shelters in my community. At the same time they estimated that 2,869 people were sleeping on the street and another 6,400 were in shelters and getting assistance. 

The housing prices have soared in my village.  People flip house, rent basements, raise rents and create tighter and tighter standards.   Family homes become bed and breakfasts and there are fewer and fewer places for families to rent.  Affordable housing drifts out to the suburbs; far from traditional neighborhoods, work and public services.   I watch this brave mother, who came here for a new job, fill out housing application and be turned down over and over again.  At night, she puts on her shoes and takes her children out to the yurt.  It is not that we don’t love them or want them, but only that it is not a home. It is only that she can not find a home.

After the earthquake in Haiti, I watched landowners pack 4 families into what was once a one family house.  Rents for a room with no electricity, plumbing or kitchen were raised over and over again.  The floors and walls were mud and the ceilings leaked but it was all there was and that came with a price.  It is easy to see why people need to stay in Port-Au-Prince where the tent is larger and dryer than the room and where there may be jobs.

On the weekends the family I am hosting, drives to relatives some three hours away. They could, of course, stay there but her job is in the city.  Everywhere people face these choices; work with poor housing or go back to family and no job.  I can see people in both countries going back and forth as they try to find balance and stability.

There are people of considerable wealth in both Haiti and in my community.  In Port-Au-Prince there are beautiful, flower- covered villas with views of the Caribbean Sea and the mountains.   In my community, there are many people with room for other people and people who do not need to raise their rents.  There are laws, in my community, to protect the availability of low -income rentals.  There are laws to protect homeless children but they are ignored.  

I understand that there are many more resources for the homeless in my community.  There are numerous places to get a meal; there are food banks, and food stamps.  There are shelters and tent villages.   Mothers can get WIC and children are fed breakfast and lunch at school.  We have a safety net but often the safety net fails to move families beyond the metaphoric tent community.

In my community, a woman and her children may easily become homeless trying to escape domestic violence.  Our homeless are often veterans of wars fought in lands colonized and exploited and turned upside down in the 1800’s.  

And so, in my village and in theirs, families live in a state of hope that tomorrow things will look up and things will get better.  In their country and in mine, people live in tents with no permanent home.   In their country and in mine, children lack the security of home and live in a state of waiting. 

In their villages and in mine.

1 comment:

  1. You called it, Sarah... publish this one now!
    I have had a series of now three homeless people in my basement apartment.
    The last one has gotten employment and is going to "make it", I think.
    The other two, even with a free room and bath, couldn't do it, but that is a whole other article..