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Homeless Hispanics in New York Face Somber Future

La Prensa-San Diego, News Report, Mariana Martnez Posted: Nov 10, 2008

NEW YORK - Next to the door of one of New Yorks favorite stores, Filenes basement on 79th and Broadway, theres a dark dirty figure with a sign that says, Homeless, please help.

He is 30-year-old Juan Carlos Gonzalez. He has an inserted bolt in his right ankle ever since he was in a car accident when he was just 15 years old.

Originally from Manta, Ecuador, he came to New York four years ago, after obtaining a work permit to work for an air conditioning company here.

I came from a small town where streets are made of sand, you know New York always seems like being in a movie, its so beautiful. Until a few months ago Juan Carlos shared an apartment with a couple of friends, had bank accounts, money to send home, and even money left over for a couple of weekend beers.

Then he had an accident on a Manhattan high-rise, injuring his arm and hurting his already injured leg.

They were paying me off the books, because this kind of jobs always does that, they never hire by contract, so I agreed, he says.

After the accident, his employer asked him to lie at the hospital and say he was at home when the accident happened. His employer was afraid of city fines but promised to pay the expenses.

A month later the employer backed out of his promise, firing Juan Carlos and at least 10 others with the explanation that work was down.

I regret doing that, because now Im on the street says Juan Carlos, as he takes two dollar bills from the jar by his feet. Little by little I spend my savings, most of it with doctors for my leg. Im so worried they will have to cut it or it just wont work and I will be left limping for the rest of my life. I hope I can see a doctor soon.

Following his friends advice, Juan Carlos is sleeping on the streets, instead of in parks or trains, so he can be can be identified as homeless by the city workers, and taken to a shelter where he hopes he can see a doctor.

I was told I need to be seen sleeping in the streets for two weeks straight so they will take me to a shelter, he explains. I cant sleep in train stations or any other place. It has to be on the street so they see I truly have no place to go. I need a doctor because I feel like the bolt moved inside my ankle.

Juan Carlos knows a lot of people in the same situation.

My next-door neighbors, my ex-coworkerstwo of my friends who had never been homeless just got into two shelters, one on 103rd and another on 106th Street, he says.

Government statistics both nationwide and in the city of New York indicate that a very low percentage of homeless people living in shelters are Hispanic or Latin American immigrants.

But recent studies by academic institutions and non-profits say the population of homeless Hispanics is underestimated because of their tendency to remain outside common governmental entities dealing with the problem.

Mexican-born homeless may be systematically under-counted in homeless samples because they are more likely to exist outside traditional homeless spaces, concludes a study called Hidden Hispanic Homelessness in Los Angeles: The Latino Paradox Revisited by Stephen J. Conroy from University of West Florida and David M. Heer from University of Southern California.

According to the Caritas foundation, (caritasshelter.org), the lack of bilingual staff is one reason some Hispanics and agency providers believe that the Hispanic homeless population is underestimated and underserved.

But the language barrier is not the only reason that it is difficult to gauge the extent of homelessness among Hispanics.

A lot of families would qualify for homeless programs but dont apply for them because they arent comfortable living in shelters. Hispanics place a high value on keeping families together, and many shelters separate men, women and children.

With recent raids and local authorities lashing out at undocumented immigrants, people are increasingly afraid that these services could be denied, and they could face deportation because of their immigration status.

For Juan Carlos Gonzalez, every day grows colder, and finding a safe place to sleep becomes even more crucial. He remains at his post with the hope of finding another job soon.

The severe financial crisis has hit hard, especially for immigrants who lack the knowledge and access to many governmental programs.

For them, the lack of jobs was the last blow that sent them into homelessness and poverty, at least until the economy begins to improve.

If I cant get into a shelterwellI will have to sleep on the trains, going up and down Manhattan until sunset, Juan Carlos says. But, he adds, I will not go back to Manta, no matter what.

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