Homelessness in Guatemala
Guatemala has a population of 17 million people. Although Guatemala contains vast industries like tourism and agriculture, the nation still has a large problem with homelessness. Guatemala’s homelessness correlates with the poverty occurring in the country. In 2014, 8.7% of the population fell under extreme poverty. People that made $5 a day make up 48.5% of the population. Because of this dire poverty situation, most families in poverty in Guatemala reside in makeshift homes that do not protect against weather conditions. Here are five facts about homelessness in Guatemala.

5 Facts About Homelessness in Guatemala

  1. The young population deals the most with homelessness. Children as young as 12 migrate to other cities in Guatemala to look for economic opportunities. Despite this, most of the children do not find employment: 50% of youth live in poverty in Guatemala and 52% cannot find employment (despite 20% of children needing to work to support their families). Most of the immigrants come from Nicaragua and Honduras because of civil unrest within the government in these countries. Homelessness in youth populations continues to occur because of limited opportunities for youth in the country.
  2. Young girls are targets of homelessness. Guatemala has a large problem with human trafficking, particularly of the female population. The Guatemalan government has identified 371 victims of trafficking in 2018. The number decreased from 673 victims in 2016, but it still has not been eliminated. Charities like La Alianza Homeless Shelter attempt to provide housing for women in Guatemala City. The Public Ministry of Guatemala is attempting to provide more help to potential victims by expanding its Immediate Response Team to help and find victims. With efforts from non-governmental and governmental programs, trafficking due to homelessness is decreasing, but it has not been extinguished yet.
  3. Altering weather conditions cause homelessness in Guatemala. The altering climate in Guatemala causes some farmers to lose their crop produce. Guatemala is one of the ten countries most at risk of the negative effects of drastic climate changes. As climate problems change the landscape, families of farmers are moving to urban centers to find working opportunities. Most of these people end up homeless because they do not find any jobs. Guatemala can not solve factors like temperature changes on their own. In 2017, the United States stopped funding the Climate, Nature, and Communities program that helped the people in rural towns in Guatemala to have better food security. The changing weather patterns in Guatemala will continue to leave farmers without food unless other countries attempt to help. Without food in small towns, farmers are forced to abandon homes and become nomads in their own country.
  4. The inequality in Guatemala aids to homelessness. Guatemala’s unemployment rate is 2.7%. Despite Guatemala having the lowest unemployment rate in Central America, it does not have sufficient job opportunities. In a Union Bank of Switzerland study, statistics revealed that 260 people in Guatemala control 56% of the economy. The second group of people in the high-income bracket receive 63% of available income. The people of Guatemala receive a minimum wage of about $270 per month. With residential properties costing an average of $150,000, the minimum wage leaves people without the means to pay for housing. Since 59% of people live below the poverty line, they are unable to afford the high prices of residential living. Organizations like Habitat for Humanity are working to build housing for people in Guatemala that live in overcrowded spaces. According to Habitat for Humanity, 1.6 million people suffer from having inadequate housing. Through organizations helping with homelessness, people can prosper.
  5. Indigenous populations are vulnerable to homelessness in Guatemala because they are not represented in the government and experience discrimination. Statistics confirm that 21.8% of poverty comes from the indigenous population. People in indigenous communities suffer inadequate water supplies and health care. The situation leads to indigenous people attempting to escape the country because of extortion or violence. Only 5% of people under 18 that migrate to other countries are not indigenous. With 40% of the population accounting for indigenous people, indigenous people should have more representation in their government. Indigenous people are usually homeless because they are recurring migrants that attempt to escape Guatemala, only to return again to the same situation they were in. The Government of Guatemala has issued a UN Declaration of Rights of Indigenous People, but they have not dedicated specific legislation towards the problem.

Many factors cause homelessness in Guatemala, but it takes an approach from the Guatemalan government, non-government organizations and developed countries to improve the situation in these countries. Despite Guatemala having large pockets of inequality, the situation is improving, as the economy’s GDP grew from 68% in 2016 to 85% in 2020. Along with this, multiple non-government organizations help to house people that live in unstable houses. Organization Asociacion Nuestros Ahijados is another NGO helping to shelter people in poverty. Through these measures, people are able to have stable homes, but it will take reductions in violence, pollution and poverty to end homelessness in Guatemala.

– Sarah Litchney
Photo: Wikimedia Commons