Homelessness in Puerto Rico is on the rise, because of a six-year recession that shows no signs of being over. The US territory’s homeless population has risen sharply in the past two years.
The territory’s ongoing economic crisis has caused an unemployment rate of almost 14 percent — higher than any state in the US. And officials believe the problem will only get worse.
Nonprofit Puerto Rico Pro Homeless Coalition of Coalitions reported that more than 1,650 homeless people are living in the less-populated half of Puerto Rico, up from 980 two years ago. Executive director Francisco Rodriguez stated, “This is the most dramatic number we’ve seen.”
While more than 80 percent of cases of homelessness used to be tied to drugs, Rodriguez said that more and more financial and family problems are to blame.
Along with joblessness, it is hard for Puerto Rico’s homeless to find a good place to stay, because the territory is lacking in homeless shelters and transitional housing. The island’s southern and western regions have just 24 beds available for the homeless, while Ponce, the island’s second-largest city, has none.
So, most of Puerto Rico’s homeless live under bridges, in parks, or in paring lots. Ivette Perez Toro, special assistant to the Department of Family secretary, believes that the growing homeless population is simply made up of jobless people.
As the population of homeless women rises, Perez attributes this to domestic violence. She explained, “Unemployment has had a domino effect. They lose their homes, their cars.” And eventually, their families as well.
As a US territory, Puerto Rico received $16 million in federal funds this year to target homelessness. And while the money helps, Perez says that more is needed. While they wait, the homeless continue to struggle to find food, jobs, and get back on their feet.
For one, Caridad Colon, surviving means standing in line for food at The Hospice of Jesus in San Juan with a dozen other people. She stated, “Just like them, if I don’t come here, I don’t eat.”
It is unclear when the homeless in Puerto Rico will be able to overcome their struggles.
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