Homeless population spikes in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Friday July 12, 2013 –  Amid an ongoing economic crisis that includes a nearly 14 percent unemployment rate, Puerto Rico’s homeless population has surged in the past two years. Adding to the gloom, officials are not optimistic that the situation will improve anytime soon.

Homeless people sleeping on park benches, under bridges, in doorways or parking lots are becoming a common sight across the island and many have resorted to begging.

While some of the homeless are addicted to drugs, the island’s home foreclosure rate, which rose again this fiscal year to more than 13,600 cases, has exacerbated the problem. There were more than 13,400 cases the previous fiscal year, compared to about 7,300 cases in fiscal year 2003.

The island of 3.7 million people’s median household income has dropped in recent years, moreover, while its poverty rate has soared to nearly 47 percent. This dwarfs the plight of Mississippi, the poorest state in mainland USA, where almost 23 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Meanwhile, more than 1,650 homeless people were estimated to be living in the less-populated half of the United States island territory this year, up from 980 two years ago, according to the nonprofit Puerto Rico Pro Homeless Coalition of Coalitions.

Officials say they are finding a similar increase in the more-populated San Juan metropolitan area, though that report is still being completed.

“This is the most dramatic number we’ve seen,” said the nonprofit’s executive director Francisco Rodriguez.

Rodriguez noted that nearly 80 percent of previous cases involving homeless people were tied to drugs, but that financial and family problems now play a bigger part.

“We’re seeing more women on the street,” he added.

Aggravating the situation islandwide is the lack of emergency shelters and transitional housing, with only 24 beds available for people without homes in the island’s southern and western regions, while Puerto Rico’s second largest city, Ponce, has no shelter for about 200 homeless people.

As a United States territory, Puerto Rico received US$16 million in federal funds this past year to target homelessness. Although a big increase from the US$3 million the island received in the early 2000s, far more is apparently needed. Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. (View sample)