Homelessness in BelizeIn Belize, the rate of poverty hovers around 42%. Many Belizeans do not have the financial resources or means to access adequate clothing, shelter and food. Not surprisingly, most of Belize’s homeless population falls vulnerable to informal housing and shelter lacking appropriate plumbing, sanitary conditions and infrastructure. To address homelessness in Belize, outside organizations offer resources and assistance to vulnerable families, individuals and communities. 

Cost of Living 

For a typical family of four living in Belize, monthly expenses far outweigh income. Average monthly costs total around $2,500, without rent, while the average net salary comes in around $950 per month. Furthermore, the cost of housing can be relatively high compared to average incomes, contributing to affordability issues for low-income individuals and families. With an unemployment rate of 9.7% as of 2022, many Belizeans are plunged into poverty, unable to afford a roof over their heads. 

Furthermore, essential goods and services are becoming increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible, especially for rural communities. Urban centers present more comprehensive ranges of housing options, whereas rural areas provide limited options and aid for vulnerable people. As a result, there are a large number of informal settlements and unauthorized settlement areas, that lack the proper legal recognition, infrastructure and basic amenities. 

Impact on Children

Notably, children are the most vulnerable to homelessness. UNICEF finds that half of the children in Belize under the age of 15 are classified as poor. Homelessness among children means that the most vulnerable in society lack basic needs, threatening the development and nourishment of young, fragile livelihoods. In conjunction, UNICEF and ECLAC (United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) find that “6 out of 10 children in Belize lack at least one of these basic needs: adequate nutrition, clean drinking water, proper sanitation, adequate housing and access to education and information.”

A home is fundamental to properly care for and support a child. To alleviate the risks and adverse effects of homelessness on children, comprehensive support for the continuation and stability of a child’s education promotes positive outcomes. Addressing the unique needs of homeless families and children involves access to stable housing, nutritious food, health care, and targeted programs for mental health support.

Initiatives to Reduce Homelessness

Countering homelessness in Belize requires a combination of efforts, including affordable housing initiatives, rent subsidies, homelessness prevention programs and comprehensive poverty alleviation efforts. Here is a list of varying organizations and comprehensive plans fighting for people experiencing homelessness.

  • The Welcome Resource Centre – Since opening its doors in 2013, the Welcome Resource Centre continues to offer daily hot meals, hygiene facilities and a safe place for the homeless and mentally ill. With over 400 registered homeless, the center hosts over 50 persons per day. Furthermore, they provide educational guidance in pursuit of employment the homeless and opportunities to develop skills. In engagement with those suffering from mental illness, WRC hosts daily programs encouraging physical and mental involvement in purposeful, therapeutic activities. In addition, the organization sponsors counseling for individuals, groups and families. 
  • Hand in Hand – Hand in Hand is an organization rooted in Belize City, building homes for Belizean families. Working with the NGO Building for Change, volunteers work alongside impoverished families, creating not only a home but also cementing personal connections with the families. Since 2002, over 450 homes have been built, providing vulnerable families with the safety and shelter of a house.   
  • Remar Belize – In pursuit of their mission to “fight for disadvantaged people in Belize to relieve all suffering from poverty, social exclusion, sickness and particularly among people affected by substance addictions,” Remar Belize offers several programs and assistance to aid those struggling with homelessness. These initiatives include temporary/permanent shelter, personal hygiene, food, clothing, occupational skills training and pedagogical activities. Their work continues to evolve and serve the most vulnerable, most importantly acting as a hub for those who have no other option.
  • Hope Haven Belize – Hope Haven Belize, working in the San Pedro area, serves over 150 women and children. Their efforts primarily focus on supporting children, providing shelter and care for “children who have been abandoned, neglected or sexually and physically abused by their parents or guardians.” Hope Haven also supports Colleen’s Kitchen Food Bank, provides counseling services and hosts empowerment programs for youth and young women. 

Going Forward

The World Health Organization recognizes that “housing is a fundamental social determinant of Health and is recognized by the United Nations as a fundamental human right, and not a luxury, as many Belizeans still believe.” Through the work of several organizations, the homeless can access shelter and resources that invest and promote opportunities to re-introduce individuals into society and out of poverty. Reducing homelessness in Belize takes a multi-dimensional approach that requires collaboration between communities and organizations to establish positive solutions that empower all Belizeans.

– Emmalyn Meyer
Photo: Flickr

facts about poverty in Belize

Belize is a Central American country located along the Caribbean Sea with a 2017 population of over 360,000 people. It became an independent nation in 1981, and tourism has become one of the biggest drivers of the economy.

Belize has suffered major challenges that have had a detrimental impact on the country and its people. These challenges include a high public debt and the effects of environmental disasters like hurricanes. Here are the top 10 facts about poverty in Belize.

Top 10 Facts About Poverty in Belize

  1. Belize is considered an upper-middle-income country with a GDP per capita of $4,806.50. Despite this, a 2009 study revealed that 41.3 percent of the population of Belize lives at or below the poverty line. The main at-risk group in Belize is the children. In 2016, 49 percent of the children in Belize lived in poverty. These children lack access to basic needs such as healthcare and are vulnerable to exploitation.
  2. Different ethnic groups in the country struggle more with poverty than others. In the study recorded in 2009, the results concluded that the poverty rate for the indigenous Maya population was 68 percent, significantly higher than the countrywide average of the time. This represents a disparity in the income levels of different ethnic groups.
  3. Malnutrition is a severe problem in Belize. In 2015, a study showed that over 16 percent of children under the age of five suffered from stunting caused by malnutrition. Approximately five percent of children under the age of five were underweight. That year, less than half of children between the ages of six months old and two years old received adequate nutrition and meal frequency the day before the study.
  4. People are unable to receive access to necessary health care. The Health Care Access and Quality index shows that Belize rates 55.7 out of 100 for access to and quality of health care. Another issue is the significant portion spent by households on health care; over 23 percent of healthcare spending came out of pocket in 2015. However, government spending is expected to increase in the coming years, which will begin reducing the proportion of healthcare spending paid directly by the people.
  5. The unemployment rate in Belize is currently at nine percent of the labor force. Despite an increase in the quantity of jobs in the labor force due to the growth in the population, job opportunities have not increased in Belize at the same rate. Compounding with this problem, a majority of unemployed workers in Belize remain unemployed for six months or more.
  6. In 2015, just over 87 percent of the population had access to the basic sanitation facilities. Though many people still live without adequate sanitation, the availability of sanitation services has been slowly but steadily increasing, rising from a level below 83 percent in 2000. In 2015, 90.5 percent of the people received better access to sanitation, indicating that the trend of improvement will continue.
  7. Agriculture is the second most significant industry in Belize’s economy, and is particularly vulnerable to the environmental dangers presented by the climate in the country. When the agriculture industry suffers it has an impact on the availability of affordable food and on the lives of people, especially in rural areas. Approximately 40 percent of the most disadvantaged of Belize’s population live in rural areas that depend on the agriculture industry.
  8. Belize has among one of the highest crime rates in the world. In 2017, there were more than 90 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. Other significant crimes that have become prominent are the drug trade and human trafficking. Young people living in poverty are vulnerable to gang involvement (responsible for a significant portion of violence), and to exploitation ( such as in prostitution).
  9. Educational attainment is low, with an average of 8.1 years of education in 2016. A year before, a study showed that the primary school completion rate was just below 87 percent of children. However, school enrollment has also continued to improve, with a seven percent jump in secondary school attendance between 2014 and 2016. The government of Belize plans to continue pushing for education with methods such as funding new institutions in lower income areas.
  10. In 2016, a four-year Growth and Sustainable Development Strategy for Belize was established. It contains a plan for the key areas that will be the focus for change and new policy in Belize, with priorities that include the development of disaster relief and improvements in education. Several projects now underway in the country work toward goals such as financing a strategy to promote growth and providing funding for disease treatment.

These top 10 facts about poverty in Belize show that there are significant obstacles to improving the state of poverty in the country. However, they also show that many improvements are currently happening that will contribute to helping those in need in Belize. Development is not only achievable, but it occurs at this very moment.

– Lindabeth Doby
Photo: Flickr

Poverty in BelizeBelize is a small country on the Caribbean coast bordering Mexico and Guatemala. With a per capita income of $4,906, the World Bank considers Belize an upper-middle income country. Despite this status, however, poverty in Belize is high. Of the nearly 360,000 individuals in Belize, 43 percent live below the national poverty line. Of this percentage, 16 percent face extreme poverty.

The nation’s economy provides context for Belize’s poverty. However, it seems like Belize should not face such high rates of poverty. For example, Belize is integrated with global politics and trade. Since gaining its independence from the United Kingdom in 1981, Belize has become a member of organizations such as the United Nations, the Organization of American States, the Central American Integration System and the Caribbean Community.

Belize’s location and its membership in these organizations allow the country to serve as a bridge between Central America and the Caribbean. Regarding the domestic economy, Belize has a booming tourism industry, which employs 25 of working Belize citizens. Tourism has picked up because Belize possesses the largest living coral reef in the world, and this attracts many divers and marine enthusiasts. Furthermore, U.S. economic expansion has helped boost the tourism industry.

However, Belize still faces challenges to economic growth and stability. The country’s economy is dependent on agriculture, manufacture and tourism. Belize produces citrus, sugar, bananas and fisheries and manufactures petroleum. Profit from petroleum can fluctuate depending on world commodity prices for oil. Both agriculture and tourism in Belize, which account for 13 percent and 25 percent of the GDP respectively, are influenced by weather conditions.

Belize must also confront its high debt repayments. In 2005, Belize’s debt to GDP ratio was 93 percent. By 2014, this percentage decreased to 78.6 percent. However, this ratio is still high and restricts the government’s budget for development programming.

The current economy is not conducive to reducing poverty in Belize. Belize must accelerate national income growth and ameliorate the growing wealth disparity. The slow-growing economy and high debts prohibit spending on social services and investment in human capital. Furthermore, Belize’s resources and economic sectors alone will not resolve issues of poverty. Poverty in Belize can only be reduced with help from international donors.

Fortunately, Belize has received aid from Official Development Assistance (ODA) and Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Belize also receives aid and assistance from a number of countries and organizations including Cuba, Venezuela, the United States, the Organization of American States and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture.

Though reducing poverty in Belize may have a long way to go, Belize is on the right track with the foreign aid they receive and their membership in development organizations.

Christiana Lano

Photo: Flickr