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Haitians Making Transitional Shelters their Homes

Haiti Shelters
people are turning these cookie-cutter shelters into individualized homes that fit their needs and reflect their styles

Pétionville, Haiti - As the Haiti earthquake recovery continues, Haitians are adapting transitional shelter into long term housing solutions that reflect their character and resiliency.

Walking through Haitian communities, it is common to find that families have begun to upgrade the shelters – nearly identical structures built in groups – often replacing the original wooden floors with a cement mixture or tile, and sometimes even adding on terraces and entryways.

“It’s really amazing what we’re seeing, as people are turning these cookie-cutter shelters into individualized homes that fit their needs and reflect their styles,” said Ignacio San Román, programs coordinator for the Spanish Red Cross in Haiti.

The American Red Cross provided more than $2.8 million to the Spanish Red Cross to upgrade 4,427 transitional shelters into permanent homes for families in Léogane, a port city 18 miles west of Port au Prince and at the epicenter of where the quake struck.

“It took us six weeks to do the extension, but we hired a trained mason, so it is safe,” said Saint Louis Desin, a resident of the Deslandes community. Desin and his family of nine originally received a double shelter – two individual shelters built side-by-side and connected according to the family’s preference. The addition of a terrace and a small front room allow Desin and his family to have a separate sleeping space from his sibling’s family.

For those who may not yet afford additions or renovations to the shelters, even a simple coat of paint can make it feel like home, and many families have even adorned their brightly colored exteriors with unique patterns, shapes and phrases.

“I would love to come back and see it in a few years, because you can already see how people are making these homes their own,” San Román said. “They’re proud to be able to do something on their own.”

The Spanish Red Cross is also building 1,500 latrines with funds from this project. Additionally, the Swiss Red Cross is upgrading 599 transitional shelters in communities in Léogane with support from the American Red Cross.

Using primarily locally procured materials, local workers cut, assemble and organize the shelter materials at the local Swiss Red Cross base to be trucked up in phases up the hill to awaiting beneficiaries.

“Their input in the work process is to come and collect the materials from the distribution points, and then our teams travel out to construct the shelters,” said Daniel Nash, logistics delegate for the Swiss Red Cross. Once assembled, locals are encouraged to paint and adorn their homes as they wish, continuing the personalization trend.

Since the 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti on January 12, 2010, the American Red Cross has committed a total of $112 million to support shelter projects, including transitioning temporary shelters into longer term housing, and permanent home repair.

From emergency relief supplies and shelter to health and livelihoods programs, the American Red Cross is diligently investing the almost $486 million it received in response to the earthquake.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies more than 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit or join our blog at