PORT-AU-PRINCE (AP) — While the 1.3 million people displaced by Haiti's 2010 earthquake ended up in post-apocalyptic-like tent cities, a sliver of the homeless disabled population landed in the closest thing to a model community.
They moved into neat plywood shelters along tidy gravel lanes in a settlement designed to house them. They formed a close-knit colony of sorts with ramps for their wheelchairs made out of discarded pool furniture and solar-powered lights to help the deaf communicate with sign language.
However, the rare respite for the estimated 500-plus people living here will soon end as the government moves to reclaim the land and, like Haiti's piecemeal reconstruction effort, there isn't much of a plan to house them once they leave.
The camp, near Port-au-Prince's international airport, is called “La Piste.” It was set up by the International Federation for the Red Cross which built 368 shelters for the hearing- and speech-impaired and others with disabilities. The first families moved in Jan. 7, 2011, days before the anniversary of the earthquake, and each received $150 to help settle in.
The current residents are a mix of people disabled by traumas or infections caused by the quake and those whose conditions preceded it.
The Red Cross says it signed an agreement with the previous administration of President Rene Preval to use the land until January 2013. Officials with President Michel Martelly's government say they want the land back and the residents need to leave.
Two U.S. religious groups are building a new site about 18 miles northwest of Port-au-Prince to house some of La Piste's residents but a good number will be left behind and many don't want to leave the camp.
Red Cross shelter coordinator James Bellamy said that if the government seizes the land before January the residents would be eligible for a rental subsidy for $500 for one year and another $500 to help out. They can also enroll in courses to learn skills.
“We'll be talking to the government and households down there to see if we can advocate for any long-term solutions,” Bellamy said. “There's no plan for them to go anywhere.”
The Martelly administration and foreign aid groups have cleared out several camps in recent months and moved the residents into homes by paying their rent for a year. But that's only 5 percent of the half-million people stuck in the gloomy, flood-prone camps.
Photo: Stock Photo