Haitians Tear Down Camp On Highway Median

Louisanna  Dema has lived along the median of Route Nationale 2, just south of  Port-au-Prince, for just over a year.  She and her family are finally moving out  of their sheet metal shack and into a "transitional shelter" provided by a  relief agency.

Louisanna Dema has lived along the median of Route Nationale 2, just south of Port-au-Prince, for just over a year. She and her family are finally moving out of their sheet metal shack and into a "transitional shelter" provided by a relief agency. Valentina Pasquali/For NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Valentina Pasquali/For NPR

More than a year after the earthquake in Haiti, a group of people living in a camp in the middle of a highway has finally been moved out of the traffic.

Roughly 1,000 people were living on an 8-foot-wide stretch of median on the main road heading south out of Port-au-Prince. In a city where almost half the population remains in camps, this settlement had the distinction of being the narrowest. It was also possibly the most hazardous.

In May of last year, 326 structures stretched in a long line up the middle of a six-lane road. Each structure covered the width of the median. Traffic rushed by both sides of the dwellings.

Residents of the encampment disassembled their makeshift shelters themselves. Late last month, Louisanna Dema, 50, was taking down her sheet metal shack. She said she was very happy to be leaving the camp.

"It was not good because [there was] a lot of dust and we get sick often," Dema said through a translator.

Dema lived for almost a year in this shack with her husband and four children.

ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency, built 160 "transitional shelters" for Dema and the other families from the median.

The new shelters are simple structures with unfinished plywood walls, concrete floors and tin roofs. Dema said they're beautiful.

Officials with ADRA say the shelters cost roughly $1,400 apiece to build and should last for three to five years.

Rasheed  Magnan also lost his home in the January 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti. He  continues to live in his sheet metal shack, waiting for a better housing  opportunity.

Rasheed Magnan also lost his home in the January 2010 earthquake that hit Haiti. He continues to live in his sheet metal shack, waiting for a better housing opportunity. Valentina Pasquali/For NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Valentina Pasquali/For NPR

Aid agencies had planned to build more than 100,000 such transitional shelters. But they've had difficulty finding land clear of earthquake rubble and where there's a clear title of ownership.

As the residents from this camp tear down their shacks and move into new plywood houses, it's clear that the need for housing remains huge.

Rasheed Magnan also lost his house in the earthquake. He says he still hasn't found a place to stay a year later.

"You know, I live right inside this place by the water. It's like nothing but like metal sheets. So we don't really have a home," Magnan says.

Magnan, who spent much of his life in the United States, says the only reason no one's giving him a house is that he wasn't crazy enough to move into the middle of road.

"You know, God is great. I'm gonna wait for my turn," he says with a laugh.

But with almost 1 million people still living in camps around the Haitian capital, its unclear when or if his turn will ever come.

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