Two reports on shelter crisis by Haiti Grassroots Watch (Ayiti Kale Je), June 2011

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An earthquake survivor camp in Carrefours, June 2011, one of more than 1,000 camps, photo Roger Annis

What’s blocking the capital’s path to reconstruction?

By Haiti Grassroots Watch (Ayiti Kale Je), June 9, 2011
Port-au-Prince, June 9 - If Haiti’s capital could be re-built from documents alone, reconstruction would be well underway already. Powerpoints, PDFs, strategic documents and reports with beautiful schematics and discussions of “social mixing,” “urban villages” and a “shared vision” circulate on the Internet and are piled high on desks and tables.

Tens of thousands of dollars have been spent on conferences and meetings in Haiti and abroad – Boston, Montreal, San Juan… But so far, there is no single plan nor – it appears – is there even a shared vision. Instead, there is discussion, more discussion, competition and even disaccord. But very little rebuilding. During a two-month investigation carried out with journalism students, Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) discovered:
•    There are at least two and maybe three different proposals in the works for downtown Port-au-Prince and the greater metropolitan area.
•    At least two are the result of contracts paid out of Haiti’s meager state coffers.
•    Port-au-Prince City Hall – which is supposed to be “financially and administratively autonomous” of the central government – has accused the ministries of cutting it out of the planning in an effort to “make money on the back of the victims,” according to Mayor Muscadin Jean-Yves Jason.
•    Even within the central government, there appear to be two competing plans, championed by two different ministries.

“We can’t wait any longer! This is a super project, and we participated from the beginning, and we congratulate you, but we can’t keep waiting!” said Michelle Mourra, a businesswoman who founded a group called “SOS Centreville” (“SOS Downtown”) to represent the interests of downtown property owners.

Mourra was speaking at a meeting of about 100 downtown property-owners, hosted by Port-au-Prince Mayor Muscadin Jean-Yves Jason last month. Attendees were treated to the first glimpses of a plan being developed by City Hall along with technical assistance from two Haitian firms. (HGW obtained a video recording of the meeting.)

But the meeting wasn’t at City Hall, which was destroyed on Jan. 12, 2010. Instead, it was on the sixth floor of the gleaming Digicel edifice, Haiti’s tallest building, built by the multinational mobile telephone company two years ago and which withstood the deadly tremors as almost everything around it crumbled.

That Mayor Jason and his colleagues have been operating out of the air-conditioned building for over a year now says a lot about the state of public administration and of the rebuilding in general.

Nearly 17 months after the catastrophic earthquake which destroyed or seriously damaged an estimated $4.3 billion worth of homes, businesses and institutions, as well as infrastructure like roads, bridges, water and electricity systems, very little rebuilding has begun. Rubble has been removed from some areas, and a few plots leveled and prepared. But downtown is only slightly improved from January 13, 2010, and in some cases, worse due to camps, increased numbers of street merchants and failed electricity and telephone grids.

Five months ago, on January 12, 2011, Jason finally placed the “first stone” for the new City Hall complex, but – as a recent headline in the Haitian newspaper Le Nouvelliste asked – “When will the second stone be laid?” As Mourra insisted that afternoon, “Port-au-Prince can’t wait anymore.”

The conference room – full of representatives of Haiti’s biggest businesses and wealthiest families, who have controlled the country’s economy for decades – Mevs, Mourra, Baboun, D’Adesky, Handal, Berman, Helmke, etc. – broke out in applause.

Frédéric Baboun leaned forward as he implored: “You are the first citizen of the city, we don’t know who to ask anymore! You need to accept your responsibilities because we are tired of seeing our buildings downtown be destroyed… We’ve been listening to experts for 15 months!”

Indeed, the earthquake only accelerated the Haitian capital’s downward spiral. Thieves have taken advantage of the chaos created by the earthquake – stealing light fixtures, doors, even toilets out of damaged buildings. Acres of destroyed or damaged property remain, snarled downtown traffic is often at a stand-still as buses and cars fight mounds of garbage, piles of rubble and an explosion of street vendors.

Noting that downtown risks turning into a “ghost town” as businesses flee up the hill to Delmas and Petion-ville, Mourra pleaded with the mayor to move the rebuilding plan forward.

But there is more than one plan in the works for Haiti’s capital, and the one Mourra and the other property owners were discussing is not the first, or the last.

Prince Charles in Haiti?
Almost one year ago, on July 28, Minister of Finances Ronald Baudin told participants at one of the many “reconstruction” meetings that rebuilding downtown would be the first stage of the capital region's reconstruction, and that the "Prince Charles Foundation" – as the Prince's Foundation for the Built Environment is commonly called – would propose a plan.

“We will build a model downtown that will prefigure the metropolitan area of tomorrow,” said Baudin, who chairs the multi-ministerial “Council for the Facilitation for Downtown Reconstruction.”

About six weeks later, on September 2, the central government defined a 200-hectare (about 500 acres) area and declared it “d’utilité publique” (“of public interest”), much to the outrage of property owners like those who attended the May 19 meeting.

Once a final plan was defined, the state might expropriate property, reimbursing property owners at a “just and equitable” price, according to the declaration. In the meantime, nobody could buy, sell, or alter their property. Business owners told HGW they have had trouble getting bank loans ever since, because banks don’t want to gamble on property that does not have a clear value.

A week after the declaration, without putting the project out to bid, the Haitian government signed a US$295,000 contract with the Prince Charles Foundation. The funds came from the state coffers.

“We chose the foundation because it is ‘not-for-profit,” Baudin told HGW. “We said - ‘Let’s make a choice where we don’t have to do a bid process.’” According to Baudin, the market rate for Foundation proposal could have cost nearly $1 million.

The Foundation chose a partner – the US-based urban planning firm Duany-Player-Zyberk (DPZ) – and held consultation meetings in the fall, and again in January, to hear from Port-au-Prince authorities, business people and residents. “It’s the first time, related to a government program, that there has been so much consultation,” Baudin claimed.

As of late April, according to Baudin, the recommendations – a series of options for the 200-acre area – were “almost final.”  The Foundation was just waiting for comments from the newly elected government, Baudin said. (Originally the final document was promised for mid-February.) “I would say we are at a very satisfactory phase,” Baudin noted. But not everyone is satisfied.

Not everyone is satisfied with the government-led plan to reconstruct Haiti’s downtown using the Prince Charles Foundation/Duany-Plater-Zyberk (DPZ) proposals. As soon as the declaration of “utilité publique” (“public interest”) was defined, downtown property owners protested with interviews and a petition deploring the potential expropriation of their properties. In a letter issued last November and printed in Le Nouvelliste, they asked the government not to create a “little ‘oasis’ at the heart of Port-au-Prince” while ignoring “the urgencies in the overall metropolitan zone.”

Others, alluded to in a Nouvelliste editorial, called for more transparency on how the Foundation and DPZ were chosen.

Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) requested that the Foundation respond to questions, and at it agreed. However, when communications officer Joanna Hindley saw the questions – some of which were related to the contract, consultations, and the choice of DPZ  – she wrote back that “there are several that I won't be able to answer due to contract confidentiality,” and after that ceased contact altogether.

The Foundation’s plan calls for “urban villages” for “middle class people” – what might be privately owned condominium-style blocks potentially “off the grid” with their own private parks, water and electricity, according to Hank Dittmar, the Foundation’s CEO, quoted in a March 13 Washington Post column picked up by newspapers all over the U.S.

In the same column, Andres Duany (the “D” of DPZ) said the block plan would allow people to “’bypass’ Port-au-Prince’s ‘breathtaking municipal incompetence.’”

The municipality’s “first citizen” was already skeptical of the Foundation/DPZ proposal but Duany’s comments sent Mayor Muscadin Jean-Yves Jason over the edge. “Port-au-Prince City Hall suspended all relations with the Foundation two months ago,” Jason told HGW in an email interview last month.

Speaking at the May 19 meeting with property owners, the mayor noted that he was tired of foreign domination of the reconstruction process. “I have lost count of the many international forums and conferences on Haiti and especially its reconstruction,” he said.

“What has been the real implication of Haitians, and especially Haitian citizens, in this process? They always say that Haiti is present via government representatives. Maybe. But what is the proportion of the Haitian actors, in comparison with the other actors?” he continued.

A Haitian Plan
Even prior to his differences with the Foundation plan, Jason asked the Petion-ville-based architecture firm Groupe Trame, and an associated group, the Haitian Center for Planning and Development Research (CHRAD) to start working on a downtown plan that would be part of a “Scheme for Territorial Coherence” (SCOT in French).

According to Jason, and to CHRAD president Jean Lucien Ligondé, all work has been pro bono to date. (However, Groupe Trame is a front-runner for the US$11 million contract to build the new Port-au-Prince City Hall complex, according to Jason and Le Nouvelliste.)

At the May 19 meeting, Jason told property owners that the Foundation plan had many shortcomings, as noted in a Trame/CHRAD assessment obtained by HGW. Among other criticisms, “[t]he planning proposal is written… without one trace of on-the-ground research” and “cannot in any way be considered as the basis for reflection or planning… for the capital’s downtown,” the document says.

In contrast, Trame and CHRAD say their proposal is based on hundreds of pages of diagnostic reports (sociological, economic, drainage,) which take into account participatory meetings.

At the May 19 meeting, Groupe Trame director Elisabeth Coicou showed slides and talked about their proposal which will assure “mixed” housing (low- and middle-income), tourism-friendly areas (artist’s neighborhoods), and a “revalorization of the seaboard.”

Speaking to HGW in late May, CHRAD’s Ligondé said he and his colleagues, who are paid salaries based on other projects, or via Trame, have worked tirelessly on the Port-au-Prince proposal because “we want to show that there are Haitians who can think about the reconstruction.”

Trame/CHRAD and City Hall asked participants at the May 19 meeting – representatives of Haiti’s biggest businesses and the elite families who have dominated the country for decades – to propose commissions that will consider five challenges associated with the plan: land ownership, security, financing, zoning, and moving the commercial port far to the north of downtown.

Coicou explained to HGW: “We want them to participate: ‘What’s your vision? How do you want to see the new capital?’” But there are other visions in the works. And who has the right to participate?

If two competing proposals weren’t enough, Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) learned of at least one more strategic planning document which appears to at least have some overlap with the Prince Charles Foundation.

Perhaps it’s normal for a client – like the Haitian government – to pay more than one firm for multiple design proposals so that there are options? But 17 months after the earthquake, having at least two competing plans, and no decision, seems inefficient.

The Canadian urban development firm Daniel Arbour and Associates (DAA) is one of the better-kept secrets in the reconstruction process. According to multiple sources, DAA is working on a series of projects for the Ministry of Planning and of External Cooperation, although the projects – and the contracts – have so far been concealed from the media and the public.

Contacted by HGW, a high level staff person at the Ministry of Planning who asked not to be cited – since technically, no Haitian ministry officials are supposed to speak to the media without the relevant minister’s approval – confirmed that DAA is indeed working on a “national strategy” urban planning document and on a study of “a new spatial orientation in the context of the recovery.”

According to the official, the DAA work does not duplicate the work done by the Foundation. “You are talking about two different things,” he said. But without further details, without concrete information, that claim was impossible to verify.

Like the Foundation, DAA is paid by the Haitian government. The official said he did not know if DAA – which has worked for the government in the past – was chosen via a bidding process, nor did he know the total amount of the contract.

Asked if the rumored $2 million dollar-figure circulating in the hallways of competing planning firms was close, he only said: “The cost might be less or it might be more than $2 million."

Asked whether or not the communication between the ministries and also with City Hall was clear and coordinated, he admitted there were often communication problems, saying “even inside the ministry we don’t have enough communication.”

Despite numerous telephone calls and emails, Minister of Finances Ronald Baudin did not respond to requests for clarification on whether or not the Ministry of Planning contracts were put out to bid, and/or if the DAA strategic planning and "spacial orientation" represented a duplication of the work previously done by the Prince Charles Foundation.

DAA’s Quebec office referred all inquiries to a DAA representative in Haiti at the time this article was written – Rene Hubert – but did not respond to the several emails from Haiti Grassroots Watch.

Port-au-Prince Mayor Jason said he was aware of the DAA project but “nobody from the Ministry of the company has contacted City Hall.”

“I am open to all discussions,” Jason continued, “but there is a game being played to weaken the mayor’s office which wants to play the dominant role it is supposed to in the city.”

There are likely other reasons for the competing plans and jockeying for control – most notably the question of who will get the eventual contracts.

“We shouldn’t hide this – reconstruction is first and foremost a question of money and investments. A lot of money,” Jason admitted.

Whose reconstruction? Whose Port-au-Prince?
As ministers and mayors argue and promote different plans, Port-au-Prince continues its downward spiral. Every afternoon the rains wash plastic bottles, animal carcasses, plant waste, wood and charcoal, feces, rubble, and just about anything else one can imagine into the pot-holed streets and into ravines which dump into the bay.

Every other store is closed, or worse. Some have been repaired by their owners. Others razed. But there is little rebuilding, since nobody knows what plan will be followed. Not even the planners.

UN-HABITAT wrote a “Strategic City-Wide Spatial Planning” document for the capital in 2009. The findings – which recommended municipalities take control of their destinies – won’t surprise anyone. The authors wrote: "Port-au-Prince is in many ways a malfunctioning and badly governed city that lacks the ability to provide its residents with the most basic urban services.

"The Haitian state and the city authorities do not have the capacity to plan and manage metropolitan Port-au-Prince. In addition to a lack of financial resources, … [the] eight municipalities share the responsibility of the city’s management with numerous central government bodies, with unclear and overlapping mandates and responsibilities, and no system for coordination."

The 2009 findings are more than relevant in 2011.

UN-HABITAT is involved in strategic planning today, also. According to Country Director Jean-Christophe Adrian, UN-HABITAT will assist DAA and the Ministry of Planning in their strategic plan.

“We are preparing a big citizens forum,” he said.

Asked about the other plans, Adrian said all of them are part of “the discussion.”

“The idea is to have the leadership put all of this together,” he said. “We are trying to create a space for dialogue.”

Both the Foundation and the Trame/CHRAD teams claim they have enabled dialogue already.

But the Foundation events were held at the fancy Hotel Montana in Petion-ville, up the hill from Port-au-Prince. The mayor's invitation-only May 19 Trame/CHRAD meeting – held on the sixth floor of the Digicel building – was a “Who’s Who” of the Haitian elite.  A previous Trame/CHRAD meeting – of about 50 people – took place even higher up the hill, at the Karibe Convention Center. (Still, Ligondé is quick to point out the few camp dwellers in the meeting’s group photo.)

Most residents, small business owners, refugees and street vendors have not been included in the competing plan sessions which are taking place mostly behind closed doors.

Maggy Duchatelier Gaston has been living and working on Rue de la Reunion for over 25 years. The aging baker has already put US$5,000 of her own money into repairing Princess Bakery, Bar and Cooking School.

“No authority has ever come here. Nobody,” Gaston said, even though the bakery is in the “public interest” zone.

Gaston put a few pastries in a box to be delivered. One of the few sales of the day. The giant display case was mostly empty, with only one sliced cake. She opened three months ago but business has been terrible. Major businesses, and the tax office across the street, have not been rebuilt, so there is very little foot traffic.

The baker has never heard of the “SOS Downtown” group of powerful property-owners and merchants, nor has she ever been invited to any meetings with anyone.

“I have never heard anything about what’s planned. We’ll probably die before anything is done,” she said.

Gaston hasn't given up. The lone cake attests to that. But one cake does not a bakery make. And a few lots cleared of rubble is not reconstruction.

Students from the State University’s Laboratoire du Journalisme helped report and write this article. Haiti Grassroots Watch is a partnership of the AlterPresse online news agency, the Society for the Animation of Social Communications (SAKS), the Network of Women Community Radio Brpadcasters (REFRAKA) and the community radios of the Association of Haitian Community Radios (AMEKA).


 

While the heroes are watching, Champ de Mars homeless left hopeless

By Grassroots Watch (Ayiti Kale Je) June 9, 2011, http://haitigrassrootswatch.squarespace.com/7chaneng1

Port-au-Prince, June 9 - It all happens right there, as the heroes watch: eating, grooming, relieving oneself, and selling everything – from the tiniest crackers to one’s dignity. All under the watchful gaze of Haiti’s heroes: Henri Christophe, Alexandre Pétion, Jean-Jacques Dessalines…

Almost 17 months after the January 12, 2010, earthquake that destroyed most of the Haitian capital, leaving perhaps 230,000 people dead and more than one million homeless, the refugees living on the Champ de Mars near the National Palace remain homeless.

“Agents came to take our names and promised some kind of aid, but we’re not sure which kind,” Harold Joseph said. Joseph lives with six children in a make-shift tent on Henri Christophe Place. “They have forgotten us. Nobody cares about us. These people and these organizations are just bluffers and opportunists,” he added.

Research by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) and students from the Laboratoire de Journalisme at the State University of Haiti found that national and international authorities didn’t forget about Joseph and his family. At least, not at the start of the beginning.

But conflicting goals and the apparent lack of leadership and decision-making mean that thousands of families are weathered the past weeks rains and floods in flimsy, unsanitary and outright dangerous tents and shanties.

The best-laid plans
Last year shortly after the earthquake, agencies, organizations ministers and even President René Préval himself met almost every day to plan how to move the Champ de Mars refugees. They wanted to make the relocation a pilot project for other camps – over 1,300 – spread throughout the earthquake affected reason.

During May, 2010, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the Red Cross, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Catholic Relief Services and others met in a room of the mostly ruined presidential palace to discuss the plan which was “well ahead,” according to a May 17, 2010, email obtained by HGW.

The message talked about a series of programs planned for the refugees, including:
•    Debris removal
•    Information campaign to encourage people to move back to homes that are not dangerous
•    Demolition of irreparable homes
•    Installation of temporary shelters or “T -Shelters” in the place of razed homes

According to Red Cross official Gerhard Tauscher, author of the email, the project was a “pilot” and “a high media attention is guaranteed.” At the time, Tauscher was coordinator of the “Shelter Cluster" – the body where the humanitarian agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other institutions working on shelter housing problem try coordinate their work.

However, over a year later, the media have not covered the pilot which never started, and the refugees are still living in the hell of tents in the middle of what was once Port-au-Prince’s largest leisure space. In stark contrast to other highly visible camps, the refugees of Champ de Mars are not being helped by any relocation program. Why? Is it because the interventions of the various authorities are not coordinated? Why hasn’t anyone assumed responsibility for this fundamental aspect of post-earthquake recovery?

Life while the heroes are watching
Since the day after the catastrophe, thousands of families have lived shoulder-to-shoulder in humiliatingly close quarters on the 15 squares and formerly greens spaces around the National Palace. While it is difficult to calculate the exact size of the population, the last IOM census, conducted in October, 2010, counted 6,000 families or about 30,000 people.

Men, women and children live in tattered tents or shacks built of tin and tarpaulin. Homemade or more-or-less professional, their homes don’t protect them from the hot sun, nor do they provide cover from the rain which comes frequently during hurricane season.

About 172 temporary toilets, set up by the French NGO Action Contre la Faim (“Action Against Hunger”) serve the entire population. They give off a pestilent odor in the middle of downtown on a thoroughfare frequented by the president, various ministers, and other authorities – although these usually make their forays into the streets in air-conditioned vehicles.

With 172 toilets for 30,000 people, that’s about one per 174 people, which is higher than the average for other camps in the capital (148 people per latrine) and is also a violation of both United Nations guidelines and “Sphere Standards” – 20 people per latrine.

The blue plastic toilets – represented as a gift to the refugees – are not used much. The camp-dwellers refuse to enter them because they are so unhealthy. “We don’t use those toilets, they’re too dirty. The people who are supposed to clean them do so rarely because they aren’t paid on a regular basis,” according to one passerby, who didn’t give his name.

A woman aged about 20 chimed in: “We do what we need to do in plastic bags or in styrofoam or cardboard ‘take-out’ plates and then throw it in the garbage. Some people do it right in front of their tents. We are really tired of living like this.

The housing crisis before the earthquake
Many organizations intervened in Haiti following the catastrophe of January 12, 2010. But the earthquake only aggravated what was already a housing problem which dates from the distant past, due to the “bidonvilisation” (“slummification”) of Port-au-Prince. The phenomenon is due to a number of factors, including the structural crisis of Haiti’s economy, especially of the agricultural sector. This caused a massive exodus from the countryside and into the cities.

There is a division of the Ministry of Social Affairs dedicated to the public housing. Completely underfunded, it is practically dead and does not play the role it should despite the growing amplitude of the problem.

Because of the state’s inability to deal with the problem, numerous humanitarian agencies have been attracted to Haiti. International organizations like Rotary Club and Habitat for Humanity were in the country long before the earthquake. Do these agencies have a plan for the relocation of the Champ de Mars refugees?

What happened to the plans made at the National Palace meetings?
After the January 12, 2010, catastrophe, many more international agencies working in the housing domain came to Haiti. According to information obtained by Haiti Grassroots Watch (HGW) and the Laboratoire du Journalisme from the meeting minutes and other documents of the "Shelter Cluster" – which brings together all the agencies and organizations working in the sector – earthquake-affected areas are divided up into cities and zones. The city of Port-au-Prince has 18 agencies and organizations working on the shelter issue, according to Cluster documents.

Image: Shelter Cluster chart showing where organizations are building T-Shelters or doing repairs. There are no organizations working in downtown Port-au-Prince.

All told, the agencies and organizations intend to build 26,594 temporary shelters or “T-Shelters,” to repair 2,174 houses, and to construct 155 permanent homes in Port-au-Prince. But that is far from sufficient. According to a March report from the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 47,059 Port-au-Prince camp families are in need of housing.

Despite the planning and supposed division of labor by the humanitarian organizations and the government, and as paradoxical as it might seem, nobody from the shelter sector is operating in any of the Champ de Mars camps.

One reason might be because the location of agencies is not the result of a distribution of tasks or a coordination overseen by one all-powerful authority. There is no "Minister of Housing," and in fact for months national Cluster meetings had no government presence. As for the Cluster coordinator, he or she can only suggest where an agency should operate.

The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission (IHRC) – in charge of Haiti’s post-January 12, 2010, recovery – could direct interventions in the shelter and housing domain. According to the law which created the commission, it is supposed to “conduct strategic planning and coordination and implement resources from bilateral and multilateral donors, non-governmental organizations, and the business sector…” but at Champ de Mars, at least, the IHRC has not delivered the goods.

According to Emmanuel Gay of the IOM, which is responsible for coordinating the humanitarian actors in the camps, his organization only gets involved in shelter issues after a serious storm or another catastrophic situation. “As soon as there is a need, we are called and we respond, mostly in crisis situations, like during rainy season we aid the most vulnerable people by helping them improve their shelters,” he told HGW.

Gay noted that IOM is working on “a plan of ‘return’ for all refugees, but he also said “we are not there yet.” Difficult to understand the delay in the execution of the alleged plan of return for homeless people who have already lived almost 17 months in demeaning circumstances.

The IOM representative also alluded to one of the possible reasons for the delay: “I think there is a government social housing project in the works for Fort National. Many of the homeless from [Champ de Mars] are signed up, but I don’t have any more details than that.” Perhaps the project is the reason no shelter agencies are working at Champ de Mars?

The mysterious Fort National project
Gay was alluding to a social housing project that the government tried to launch on January 12, 2011. But Minister of Social Affairs Gérald Germain was met by furious residents hurling rocks and glass bottles in the neighborhood on a hill a few kilometers from the Palace.

“We want explanation! We want to know how the government intends to help the people who, long before January 12, lived in inhuman conditions. It is unacceptable in the 21st century!” one of them told the online news agency AlterPresse. [See the story on this website.]

According to the outgoing Minister of Finances and Economy, Ronald Baudin, the project is moving forward but is not yet at the execution state. “Part of the money is ready, the plans are done… the models have already been built. We just need to clear the sites so we can begin the building,” he told HGW.

Image: Flier handed out in Fort National neighborhood on January 12, 2011. The writing says: "Haitians let's take the destiny of our country in hand."

But a CIRH authority has doubts about the project. Priscilla Phelps, CIRH’s Principal Counselor for Housing and Neighborhoods, told AlterPresse on January 12, 2011: “A lot needs to be clarified… the project needs to be vetted. It is pretty expensive.”

Questioned more recently, Jean-Christophe Adrian, Coordinator for Programs for UN-HABITAT, which heads up the Shelter Cluster at the moment, said the same thing. According to him, the project is at an impasse. “I am not aware of any progress,” he told HGW.

Adrian remembers the near-daily meetings at the National Palace aimed at planning the evacuation of Champ de Mars and the refugees’ return to their home neighborhoods. “It was President Préval’s initiative,” he recognized, and all the agencies were enthusiastic about the success of the pilot project, since “the only solution is to allow people to return to their neighborhoods.” But the meetings and discussions suddenly ended.

“Well, I don’t have all the information but in fact… according to what I understand, the decision was taken to do a big operation at Fort National,” Adrian remembered.

Similar to Phelps, Adrian does not think large social housing developments are the best solution. One of the reasons is that, historically, usually the middle class is the one that benefits.

Haiti Grassroots Watch turned to Port-au-Prince Mayor Jean Yves Jason to ask him what had been done or will be done for the Champ de Mars refugees who are, after all, residents of his city. According to Jason, City Hall was not involved in the Fort National project. “It was a move to help the president political platform Inite in order to buy the Bel Air voters,” he claimed in an interview via email.

In addition, Jason said he tried to liberate a few of the public squares on May 12, two days before the inauguration of the new president, but without success.

City Hall has also proposed its own social housing project at Morne à Cabrit, a dry mountainside north of the capital. The pilot project would benefit 6,000 families and would cost US$76,065,000 (US$12,677.50 per family), he said.

The new president, Michel Martelly, recently circulated a document called “Closing of Six Priority Camps through the Launch of Definitive Reconstruction.” The Champ de Mars camps were not one of the “priorities.”

Nobody knows the truth about how long Haiti’s citizens will have to live in this hardly describable situation. But one truth does not escape any observer: if a hero is someone “distinguished by his action” or “who plays a principal role in history,” as the dictionaries tell us, many actors – the "non-governmental organizations," the United Nations agencies, the mayors, the ministers and the IHRC among them – are acting in almost the opposite manner in the eyes of the Champ de Mars camp-dwellers.

Maybe the homeless are the real heros. Every day they struggle for their survival against the rain, cholera, the lack of toilets, homes, schools, jobs and maybe even hope itself.