Suddenly Homeless in Cuba

By Jesus Jank Curbelo (El Toque)

Ilustración: El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – I don’t know whether you’ve seen the news, but a few days ago, a motorbike that was charging blew up. It was early in the morning in Lawton, nearby. I’ve been seeing accidents like this, for a while now. Electric mopeds that explode, boom, and burn everything down around them.

Photos went viral in the morning, and they were very sad. Burnt down houses, people trying to save whatever they could. People who don’t know where they are going to go. Anyone will lend you their sofa to spend the night, but that often doesn’t last for longer than a month. However, trying to find a house is agony.

Here, three generations live in the same room: cousins, grandparents. Every time somebody is born, you have to find a little bit of space and wait for somebody else to pass away to get the space back.

There isn’t enough space in temporary shelters either, “temporary” being the official name for them. There are schools where two families are stuck together in a classroom, for example. Or an abandoned place that people try to fix up as best they can, with one bathroom for everyone.

Many leak and many don’t have partition walls. The Government sends boxes of food to many people who don’t have proper conditions to cook. I have known people who have spent years in one of those places. Who were children when they went there and now have their own children. This is why nobody wants to end up there. This is why there are people risking their lives in places in danger of collapse.

Where did they go?

I asked friends in Lawton, but I don’t know where the people involved in the fire ended up. Seven families. I saw a photo on Facebook: a young woman holding her daughter. Their eyes were filled with pain. The person who posted the photo said that the little girl didn’t even have shoes on. She was barefoot in the photo, with a dressing gown on.

I also saw that help groups had been created, announcing places where you can leave donations. Four days later, the accident appeared in the news. The local government’s actions were praised. But when this news is pushed into the background, when we forget about it, these families will still have nothing. Or they will be living in a shelter. God knows where.

I have seen many people lose their home and end up on the street. With the clothes on their back. After a hurricane, after a tornado, after a downpour. Or because the roof just can’t hold up anymore. I have had to speak to these people, interview them, without knowing what to say.

I have tried to remain as cool as I can, trying to give them hope. I try to put myself in their shoes, but it’s just for me. Nobody ever knows what loss and abandonment are until you go to sleep with one thing and wake up with absolutely nothing.

Laptop theft

One night, I had my laptop stolen in Santiago de Cuba. A robber climbed up to the second floor where I was and took it. I had my laptop on the bed, I had been watching a movie and I fell asleep with it. I woke up and it wasn’t there anymore.

Losing a house or everything isn’t the same thing, but I swear that I felt like it was better to die right in that moment. I thought about how I was going to find the money to buy another one. I thought about all of the information I had on it: my word documents, especially my work, my time. Then, the police came. They interviewed us, took fingerprints, photos, dogs who followed never-ending tracks. The leading expert gave me confidence. I cried the entire day.

I left Santiago and went to Santa Clara, invited to take part in a short story festival. I was exhausted when I got there. Dragging my feet as if I was half-empty. That was the closest I’ve felt to being stripped of everything.

Two or three months later, the police called: “We’ve archived the case.” That was it. Up until today.

I’ve been thinking about the girl in the photo for days now. About those seven families. I feel like buying a building and telling them: “Live there, don’t suffer anymore.” Of saving the Government building materials and saving the report of the housing distribution, where people who were living in shelters for years come out with tears of gratitude. However, I don’t have a place to live in or fall dead.

I also thought about how the news might say that everyone was given a house, tomorrow, like after a tornado. I would even go out to thank them. But I doubt that will happen.

Tell me something to cheer me up.

Read more from Cuba on Havana Times

8 thoughts on “Suddenly Homeless in Cuba

  • I havebeen to Cuba both for work and with a nonprofit organization. I can you tell that in Canada and most parts of the U S. The homeless have lots to eat and get basic medical care and lots to eat and a chance for part time work even sleeping under a storefront or in old car is a much better living than a doctor has in Cuba. We can camp out at Queen’s Park when gov or insurance companies cheat people in Cuba those people just disappear. Our provincial government is not honest or looking out for the disabled the way they should be, but we have lots of medical supplies in Canada and Non profit groups will supply food, medicine and with coronavoius put the homeless in homeless hotels since March 17 of this year along with local government when the insurance company cheated these people.

  • lifttheembargo, in per capita terms it is debatable whether the US has greater natural resources than Cuba. It is also difficult to define homelessness, it is not the same as being destitute.
    Over the years, there have been many claims that Cuba does not have any homeless. How many of the huge number of incarcerated there if released, would have a home to which they could return? You are correct in indicating that in several South American countries, the problem is greater, but that does not alter the grave shortage of living accommodation in Cuba.

    As Stephen who comments here extensively, would tell you, Canada despite its recognized high standard of living, has a lot of “homeless”, but most have the opportunity to take a shower, receive a meal, and sleep in a single bed under a sound roof at night, in the shelters provided by a combination of charities and local government, others however, actually prefer to “sleep rough” in all but the most severe weather conditions.

    There are many in Cuba who are not “homeless” but do not have the level of comfort those shelters provide, with up to four generations living in two or three room dwellings with few basic conditions. Mud huts in Namibia can provide greater living space.

    I am not defending homelessness, for far too many it is miserable. Man has always sought a refuge in which to shelter, and being without one is for most, awful.

  • Carlyle MacDuff, about GDP per capita, yes, what you say is true, its number 10. But in absolute terms it is the richest. Does it have to be the richest also in GDP per capita for my question to be valid?

    I said ‘relatively’ few natural resources. Relative that is to the US and other Latin American countries. Many countries in Latin America has a lot of natural resources (and higher GDP/capita than Cuba) but how many has managed do away with homelessness better than Cuba?

  • While the US certainly must take some blame, ultimately the Cuban Socialist experiment has proven to be a failure. The country’s GDP exceeds the costs of its socialist agenda, and government does not operate businesses with the same energy of competition as would a private business owner. It’s very sad – the Cuban people are defeated and mostly just trying to survive their incompetent government.

  • In response to lifttheembargo, I would query the US being the world’s richest country – there are several with much higher GDP per capita. I also dispute the claim that Cuba has “few natural resources to draw wealth from.” Cuba has for example, considerable mineral wealth, tremendous agricultural potential – which is being willfully squandered, and millions of acres of neglected forestry. Those assets can be added to its tourist potential which is only partially developed.

  • Cuba is No Longer a Vacation Destination For Tourist, Not Because of Covid 19. The Lands of Waste & Homeless Hunger. The Governments Swindle Has Gone Too Far for Too Long, Many of us now Understand our Money will not Help the Cuban Children in Real Need. When you Live more time all over Cuba in the past 5 plus years then your own Country you can & will Learn how much Pain Cubans must Endure that is Never ending, Day in & Day out, Year in & Years Over. The Corrupt Government Swindle is OVER using the Cuban Children.

  • Moses Patterson, are you saying that the system that is creating, as you say, homelessness in epic proportions (like in SF as well as in most Latin American cities) is not a failed one, because it is not even designed or meant to fight homelessness or because it creates people that simply doesn’t deserve better than homelessness? Many homeless people in the US actually have jobs!

    Remember that you are comparing the worlds richest, most powerful and imperialist country and a small, embargoed Caribbean island with comparably few natural resources to draw wealth from.

  • I live in San Francisco. Homelessness in San Francisco has reached epic proportions. Over the last 15 years I have visited Cuba at least once a year and in half of those years more than once a year. Over the years I have noticed more and more homeless families in Havana. There had always been those grizzled men who seemed to be victims to rum and beer addictions but to see more and more innocent women and children sleeping in the streets in Havana has been unsettling to say the least. Only blocks from my upper middle-class neighborhood in San Francisco are mini encampments of the homeless whom I believe are there because of lost jobs, substance abuse, domestic violence and a variety of other societal ills. In Havana, the blame fits squarely on the shoulders of the failed Castro dictatorship. The government, while preventing the private sector from building new homes, has failed to maintain let alone expand the existing housing stock. By the government’s own admission, there is a deficit of more than a million homes in Cuba. What this means is that the housing problem in Cuba is a lot like the children’s game of musical chairs. After a rainstorm, a fire or whatever calamity that causes buildings to fall down or become inhabitable, an otherwise healthy and hardworking Cuban family becomes homeless. Castro-style socialism not only can’t feed itself, it also is failing to keep a roof over its head.

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