Mailin and Bladilien – Living on the Streets of Havana

HAVANA TIMES – They live in the abandoned How Yueng restaurant on Infanta St., in Havana. Their ages range from 38 to 43. They explained that they live by collecting things from the garbage and selling them: books, used clothing, television remotes, vinyl records, old shoes, and other things. They’ve been on the street for five years.

The number of homeless people on the Cuban streets has been increasing. Family estrangement, social problems such as alcoholism, drugs, emigration, and aging are some of the problems of those now living on the streets.

In many cases, relatives who needed money to leave the country sold the house they were living in. Or they themselves, sold their home but didn’t reach their goal and were then left up in the air.

Mailin and Bladilien are a couple. They met on the street, and they’ve now been together for three years. When there’s money, they buy whatever then can, then cook it on a small electric burner in this shuttered state establishment. Initially, they slept in the doorway, until the administrator of the locale let them sleep inside.

Mailin and Bladilien

Mailin’s house was in very bad shape and eventually collapsed completely. The whole family was relocated to a four-meter space in a shelter in Guanabacoa. “There were always a lot of us in my family. I never had children, and I left my house when I was very young, because I wanted to get out of that hellish life where we barely fit in the house. I got married and was studying economics, until I ended up in jail, and everything in my life changed for the worse.”

From the time he was young, Bladilien was mistreated by his alcoholic mother.  As early as nine or ten, he took the wrong road and began consuming drugs with his friends in the neighborhood. “That was my escape. In addition to being an alcoholic, my mother worked as a prostitute and would throw me out of the house. I’d wander the streets for the entire day.”

“I sold my little room to be able to leave the country, but they sent me back. That depressed me a great deal, until I met Mailin and we accompanied each other.” Bladilien spent some time in the psychiatric hospital for personality disorders resulting from the drugs.

Mailin and Bladilien later met Miguel Angel, who they call “father”. They live with him and make up a family. The day I visited, they had a pineapple to eat and a small flask of cheap rum. I gave them some money to buy something else to eat and advised them: “Don’t spend it on rum.” The assured me they wouldn’t, and Bladilien said: “If you want, you can go with us. Next door they sell bags of bread.”

Before leaving, I took him up on his offer, to make sure. Bladilien, moved, said “God bless you. Thanks for listening and for sharing with us.”

In this Caribbean island nation, which eliminated public begging decades ago, extreme poverty is on the rise today. You can find its victims in abandoned buildings, parks, doorways.  Although the government has repeated on many occasions: “no one will be left defenseless,” many people continue surviving as best they can on the streets.

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