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Down and out in el DeFe

20 October 2009

The Federal District census of homeless residents reveals some startling information.

Some is about what you’d expect:  Eighty one percent of the homeless are men; fully two-thirds are alcoholics and about 40 percent use illegal substances of one kind or another.  Only about five percent are children, but nearly a quarter of the homeless are over 60.

Surprisingly, only ten percent are completely unschooled and only one in three are without any employment at all.  The working homeless are mostly in casual trades like street vending, cash washing or running errands for small businesses.

(all figures via El

What was the most amazing statistic — and one I have a hard time believing — is that only 2759 individuals in the Federal District are classified as homeless.  Certainly, you see more persons we would assume are homeless,  but assumptions are often wrong.

Even beggars often have a regular place to sleep in a society where family connections fill in gaps in the social safety network.  It may be done begrudgingly, but the mentally ill, the alcoholic, the lost souls, wandering the streets, often have an aunt, a second cousin, a brother of the best friend of their sister’s high school sweetheart, who will let the person squat in a utility room, or hallway or empty warehouse.

The survey does not seem to include these quasi-homeless, nor — like the “niños de la calles” I wrote about last March — those who were “socially cleansed” from the streets, forced into prostitution to avoid being jailed when District administrators unwisely accepted some of the recommendations made by former New York City mayor Rudolf Guiliani which made sleeping in public a criminal offense.

Granted, it’s better that Mexican society can provide a roof over the heads of nearly all of the poorest of the poor, but there is still a need for social services and charity beyond what the state can reasonably provide.  Creative solutions, like Casa Xochiquetzal, the home for retired (and aging) prostitutes are unlikely to be expanded, nor — with the present Federal Government — is there much support for “make work” projects that would build shelters for difficult populations like alcoholics and throw-away minors.

And, homelessness is hardly the only measure of extreme poverty in the Federal District.

A poll made public last week by the National Council for the Evaluation of Social Policies (Coneval) the number of persons in the city who can’t make ends meet rose between 2005 and 2008 by 184,000 from 902,000 to 1.86 million.

The Mexico city government alone spent 37 billion pesos in anti-poverty programs to benefit those who do not even meet the 31 pesos minimum the government considers a persons has to spend on food for basic feeding, excluding meat, according to the Coneval poll.

For instance, the Communal Dining Halls program launched this year by the city government is said to reach only 10 percent of the 614,000 registered dire poverty recipients.

That is, only 60,000 get at least one solid full meal a day at a cost of 10 pesos.

Sure, you can “teach a man to fish”, but unless he has a pole, and a line (and access to a fishing hole, and a knife to gut the fish and….) and isn’t so malnourished he needs to eat the bait to stay alive long enough to pay attention, it’s foolish to fuss about potential economic distortions of global markets due to statist interventions, or express concern that one may be fostering a “culture of dependency” or develop some Calvinistic scruple to assisting the “undeserving”.

And, if a person must beg, even if they’re drunk, they are still a person:  at minimum everyone deserves a safe, warm place to sleep and the minimal nutritional intake required to stay alive.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Eugene Hoekendorf permalink
    20 October 2009 1:20 pm

    I think you need to define homeless. There are many people in Mexico city (and of course other parts of this great country) that live in a vacant lot. The vacant lot has beem sectioned into many living areas made of cardboard, wood, corrigated metal, plastic bags or what ever they can find on the street. In USA this is homeless, here it could be defined as a home. What is homeless?

  2. 20 October 2009 2:45 pm

    Homless is defined according to the figure you want at the end. Hence the huge variance in figures between government and charitable surveys.

    I too find it hard to believe there are fewer than 3,000 homeless people in the city.

  3. Dee permalink
    21 October 2009 11:51 pm

    If you have some good ideas how to take care of this, I think the city of San Francisco, CA would like to hear them. You don’t? Oh, well.

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