165,000 Haitians have fled their homes, driven out by gang violence, with nowhere else to go in Port-au-Prince the Haitian capital city of nearly three million people.
Jean-Kere Almicar who once lived in Scranton, Pennsylvania but moved back to Haiti in 2007 opened his house to one homeless family.
“There was nothing I could do except tell them to come in,” Almicar said. “Their home doesn’t exist any more. If they go back, they’re going to be killed.”
Some 79,000 people are temporarily staying with friends or family, but another 48,000 have crowded into dozens of makeshift shelters like Almicar’s or sought refuge in parks, churches, schools and abandoned buildings in Port-au-Prince and beyond.
The situation is overwhelming nonprofits and non-governmental organisations such as churches which run overseas missions in Haiti.
“The government is not relocating anyone,” said Joseph Wilfred, one of several volunteers in charge of an abandoned government building in Port-au-Prince that houses nearly 1,000 people, including him and his family.
Tens of thousands of Haitians have lived in these makeshift shelters for almost a year.
They sleep on the hard floor or on flattened cardboard boxes. Belongings are stuffed into big rice bags pushed up against the walls of packed rooms. The gangs that chased them out of their homes and control up to 80 percent of the capital, by most estimates, have begun recruiting children as young as eight at shelters.
One woman staying at Almicar’s place, Lenlen Desir Fondala, said someone snatched her five-year-old son while they were living in an outdoor park in November. Her face crinkled and she began to cry, whispering that she still dreams of him.
Rapes have become common at the shelters and in the neighbourhoods that gangs are destroying.
The United Nations’s International Organization for Migration has helped more than 3,400 people find homes in safer areas and gives families some $350 to cover one year of rent.
But a growing number of those families have been returning to shelters as gangs continued to invade communities once considered safe. Even makeshift shelters are closing and moving elsewhere because of the continuing violence, said Philippe Branchat, head of the IOM in Haiti.
People at the shelters sometimes can only afford to eat one mango a day. Many young children are malnourished and at risk for cholera, which is transmitted through sewerage contaminated drinking water.