Why So Few of Philly’s Homeless Latinos Use Shelters, Get City Services

The Philadelphia Inquirer 

Edgardo Aponte sleeps most nights in the parking lot of a Kensington Save-A-Lot. When he has money, he’ll share a room with as many as five other men in a nearby rowhouse. He’s been homeless for several years and like most of the people who share the supermarket lot, he’s Latino, originally from Puerto Rico.

Linda Morales Bryant has moved with her husband and three children three times in the last year. She’s gone from her mother’s house to a friend’s house to a friend of a friend’s. When things got really dire this fall, the family considered pitching a tent somewhere to avoid getting split up in the city’s shelter system.

They represent two faces of Latino homelessness in the city, an underserved, undercounted group that advocates say isn’t reaching city services designed to help them.

Latinos make up nearly 15 percent of Philadelphia’s population and form its poorest minority group — 38 percent live in poverty, according to census data. But step inside a city homeless shelter and there are few Latinos. Nationally, and in Philadelphia, they represent a small fraction of people in shelters.

It’s been dubbed the Latino Homeless Paradox. Wary of shelters, Latinos are more likely to live on the streets or couch-surf among friends and family.

Advocates say many Latinos don’t go to shelters because of language barriers and because the available beds are not near their neighborhoods. Culturally, there is also a tendency for families to cram together before letting members go to shelters. But since most city housing programs are accessed through shelters, profound need goes untended.

“I don’t want to pit one poor community against another or one sad story against another,” said Will Gonzalez, who heads Ceiba, a coalition of Latino community-based organizations, “but the fact is the community that has the highest rate of poverty in the city of Philadelphia is, proportionally speaking, being inherently discriminated against.”

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