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 CNS Story:

HAITI-SHELTER Mar-14-2011 (910 words) With photos. xxxi

'T-shelters' help Haitian quake survivors begin rebuilding their lives

By Dennis Sadowski
Catholic News Service

CARREFOUR, Haiti (CNS) -- The stack of prefabricated walls, roof joists, corrugated steel and construction supplies at the end of the road brought a smile to Justin Auguste's face.

After spending 14 months in makeshift housing since the powerful Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake, the 78-year-old former cattleman knew that soon he would not have to sleep on the ground.

"God came down today with the shelter," he said March 11, peering from under a tattered wide-brimmed straw hat that shaded his face from the hot midday sun.

For nearly an hour, Auguste, 78, had instructed friends, family and neighbors which pieces of housing to carry to the tiny plot a quarter-mile away reserved for his transitional shelter, or "T-shelter," provided under a program operated by Catholic Relief Services and funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

He watched patiently as each twosome carefully hoisted the partially built walls atop their heads before marching down the rutted and rocky path in the Saint-Rock community, high in the mountains above Carrefour, near the quake's epicenter.

A construction team hired by CRS planned to build the 12-by-16-foot, two-room shelter the next day. For Auguste, that meant the teams who stepped up to carry the parts could not delay.

Auguste and his family are among thousands of earthquake survivors who now live in the plywood-walled T-shelters. Those deemed eligible to receive the structures agreed to provide a bit of sweat equity: applying a coat of paint.

The agency is under contract to provide 4,000 T-shelters, which will house 20,000 people. To date, about 2,500 have been completed, said Eddy Ambroise, manager of the Varreux Yard in Port-au-Prince, where 146 workers produce about 40 prefabricated structures a day.

The shelters are meant to last up to three years. They serve as a stopgap measure until permanent housing can be found or built.

"The families have been through these incredible changes for the last year," said Melissa Kreek, who recently served as program manager in the Community Resettlement and Recovery Program for CRS. "So providing the T-shelters provides them a sense of personal space they haven't had for a long time."

The T-shelters have been constructed in five communities in both rural and urban settings. In Saint-Rock, the 300 T-shelters constructed through early March are spread over several square miles. In Port-au-Prince's Delmas 62 neighborhood and on government-leased property in Terrain Toto, 10 miles east of the city, the T-shelters are spaced more closely together because land is at a premium.

Beyond providing temporary housing, the program also employs dozens of people in related jobs.

In addition to the Varreux plant, residents in local communities have been employed in cash-for-work ventures. One part of the program finds workers clearing earthquake rubble from streets. The debris is carted to nearby sites where other workers used hand-operated crushers to pulverize the material into the basic ingredients of cement. Some of the cement is bought by CRS for use in the concrete pads on which the T-shelters are built. Some is used by entrepreneurs to make concrete block for construction.

The shelter program is part of an effort by CRS to address the wide-ranging needs of some of the 1.5 million Haitians who lost their homes in the earthquake. To reach that goal, CRS has ended its work in the camps for displaced Haitians and has turned to rebuilding communities.

"Our main objective is to elevate communities to ideally a little bit better than where they were before the earthquake, but at least as closely as possible to where they were before the earthquake," said Niek de Goeij, head of the agency's Community Resettlement and Recovery Program.

Providing shelter is the most visible component of the effort thus far. T-shelter residents for the most part are pleased with the 192-square foot structures. Some have even built small "additions" to ease overcrowding. A few have planted flowers and vegetables outside their front doors.

Jean Arnaud Compere, 57, who is blind, said the T-shelter he received Feb. 9 is far better than the house of sticks and stones in which he lived with his sister in Saint-Rock. His old home shook wildly during the quake, he recalled, leaving it beyond repair.

"We have a house to live in now," he said.

In Terrain Toto, about 360 shelters have completed as of mid-March. Another 440 are planned.

August Marie-Sonie, 26 said the T-shelter she shares with her three sisters is more comfortable than the tent they occupied for months after the earthquake leveled their home. She said the next step is to move into permanent housing so she can focus on returning to school to complete her education in accounting.

Area leader Matthew Accene recently started building an addition onto his T-shelter to give more space to the eight members of his family. He also coordinates a security team that patrols their section of the Terrain Toto site each night to ward off criminal activity.

He said such crime is expected when people from different neighborhoods are mixed together. Overall, he said, Terrain Toto is safe.

"People are really satisfied with the change," he said of the relocation from Port-au-Prince. "The idea is that CRS continues to work here and that the government eventually buys and divides the land and gives responsibility to the residents to build our own home.

"It's what everybody wants in this camp," he added. "Everyone who lives here has nowhere else to go."


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This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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