A gang went on the rampage through the Cite Soleil slum, killing, raping, and torching hundreds of homes made of wood and tin. One family of four was evicted from the neighborhood and was living on the street in Port-au-Prince when they were hit by a truck while they were asleep.
Two brothers, ages 2 and 9, perished in the accident in November. After welcoming their distressed parents, another family, then another, Jean-Kere Almicar opened his home to them, and so on until there were nearly 200 people camped out in his front yard and the surrounding area.
They are among the more than 1,65,000 Haitians who have fled their homes as gang violence has increased, with nowhere to turn in this nearly 3-million-person capital.
Almicar uses his own funds; he formerly resided in Scranton, Pennsylvania, before returning to Haiti in 2007.
Almicar remarked, “All I could do was tell them to come in”. “Their home no longer exists.” They’ll be put to death if they return.
Around 79,000 people are momentarily staying with friends and family, but another 48,000 have crammed into a number of improvised shelters, including Almicar’s, or have sought safety in parks, churches, schools, and abandoned buildings in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. Nonprofit and non-governmental organizations are completely overwhelmed by the situation.
In Port-au-Prince, an abandoned government building that houses nearly 1000 people, including him and his family, is being managed by a group of volunteers. “The government is not relocating anyone,” said Joseph Wilfred.
For almost a year, tens of thousands of Haitians have been suffering in these improvised shelters. They lie on the concrete floor or on collapsed cardboard boxes to sleep. In a crowded room, items are crammed into large rice bags and pushed up against the walls. According to most estimates, the gangs that drove them from their homes and now hold up to 80% of their capital are now actively recruiting kids as young as 8 at shelters.
One guest at Almicar’s house, Lenlen Desir Fondala, claimed that her 5-year-old son was abducted in November while they were residing in a park. She started to cry and wrinkle her nose while muttering that she still dreams of him.
Rapes are also frequent at shelters and in the areas that gangs are destroying.
After being shot by gang members and attacked with a machete, Lovely Benjamin, 26, has scars on her torso and arm. Her son, age 4, has a machete scarf covering his head. They live on the streets, and Benjamin has trouble getting a job. She used to sell rice and oil, both of which were burned by the gang because she lacked the money to replace them. She and her son escaped the attack, but the assailants killed and burned her partner’s body. “Everybody was running,” she recalled. “The gang burst
into everyone’s home.”
Almicar’s front yard is now home to Benjamine and her son, along with other Cite Soleil neighbors. On a recent morning, they huddled close together amid piles of clothing that had been soaked by recent floods. Some of them used tiny, charcoal-fired stoves to cook beans or vegetables on the rocky floor where they sat and slept.
The women hope that someone will assist them in finding a safe place to live as they carry envelopes containing detailed medical records of the horrors they experience.
For now, they take refuge in the yard of Almicar, who is known as “Big
But few are as kind as Almicar. Because they believe gang members may be hiding among them, neighbors have threatened to evict those who have been left homeless and the police have been evicting people from makeshift shelters.