Sheltering the homeless

Tents, tents, tents!

In a break from the news on medical care and nursing in Haiti, I would like to discuss tents. As you know, thousands of Haitians are without permanent housing and are living in flimsy tents. Many of these are simple structures of sheets stretched across limbs or boards. Obtaining sturdy tents is a tremendous need, as we know that the rainy season is coming soon (it has already rained a few times), followed by the unreliable and often wicked hurricane season. Having a decent place to live is so basic, a basic human need and right. In this case, basic means a roof to block the sun and rain and a floor so one is not sleeping on the dirt or mud. I could go on and on about the present situation and how it simply does not make sense, particularly as we sit in our comfortable houses and offices — that people are living and sleeping with a cloth tarp over their heads– people such as a pregnant woman, an elderly man who has recently had a leg amputated because of earthquake-related injuries, a family with three little children, etc. etc. I got interested in the issue of tents and housing because of two family friends who live in Port au Prince. When I knew that I was going to Haiti and would be involved with other nurses who were headed to Port au Prince, I asked what they could use and need. They answered: tents! That is what got me started, soliciting tents from family and friends, getting enough for those two families and others, and then looking for other places where we can send needed tents to the homeless of Haiti.

On the positive side, there has been tremendous progress. USAID reports earlier this month that the US, UN, NGOs and other global partners have provided shelter for half of the 1.3 million people who need it. This accomplishment will go a long way toward decreasing the health and sanitation risks that are of concern in the tent camps. On the other hand, there is still the other half of the people without adequate shelter, thousands of them.

For those who may be interested in this issue, there is a great website with brief video: . The video is really inspirational and attests to what individuals can do to help a dire situation. After watching it, I was tempted to stop working on health care and dive directly into the tent issue. Short and worth the time. Great and educational,for kids and adults alike.

There are many other organizations who are working on the housing crisis in Haiti. Here are a few:  – no money involved here; just ship your tent to them, and they send it to Haiti  – a donation goes through Partners in Health, well-known Boston-based non-profit working in Haiti for years and does great work, mostly in health. – Sponsored by the American Alpine Club. You can ship your tent directly, or make a donation of money that will be matched by the Boston Foundation. – “Shelterbox”, this is the “Cadillac model” of housing in disaster situations– large, sturdy tent and complete with supplies for a family for a year in a terrific box. One tent box costs $1000. You can donate a portion towards a box. I saw these tents in Haiti; they are great. The website allows donations but you cannot specify where you want your tent to go. They do tremendous work around the world. Very reputable.

Unfortunately, the new more independent sites cannot be found in “charity navigator” or the like, to insure their integrity. I think that is mostly because they are so new. But if you actually send a tent, it seems very likely that a Haitian family will be living in it in the near future.

As you can see, there are lots of options to help shelter a family, and certainly more than I have listed. Some organizations take monetary donations as well as tents, others take either money or tents.

Some focus on short term tents before the rainy season, and there is also long term focus on reconstruction and human rights with some of the groups.

So- If you have a tent, maybe you could send it to the one of the folks above? Maybe send this message to anyone you know who may have a tent idling in a garage, attic, or basement? Former Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, campers who have upgraded or gone into retirement, hikers who have aged or have gotten chronic knee pain? Or anyone who would like to help shelter people in need?


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