THE future of more than 500 men, women andteenagers fighting drug and alcohol addiction inshelters nationwide hangs in the balance: financialproblems are threatening to shut down the CostaRican branch of international non-governmentalorganization (NGO) Hogar Crea, one of the country’slargest drug-rehabilitation providers, if the governmentdoes not provide funds.Public and private-sector leaders, with the resultsof a study on San José’s homeless population in hand,are discussing long-term solutions for the people wholive and sleep on the city’s streets – many of whom areaddicted to drugs and alcohol. However, such effortsmay be too little, too late for Hogar Crea and its 22shelters unless support arrives soon, national directorMax Murillo told The Tico Times this week.“If help doesn’t come, we are on the verge of closing,”Murillo said.The organization is in financial trouble because oflack of government support, a recent influx of shelter residents – partly because of governmentefforts to get homeless people off thestreets – and decreased success from sales,according to Hogar Crea manager JoséMiguel Jiménez.“We have a total collapse from thefinancial point of view… (because of) thelimited supportthe governmenthas provided,”he said.HELP maybe on the way.Various governmentagenciesare poisedto offer aid,according toMariela Echeverría,socialworker for theMunicipalityof San José.Until this week,they were prohibitedfromdoing so becauseHogar Crea was classified as delinquentin its payments to the Social SecuritySystem (Caja), which has provided supportthrough the years.While Hogar Crea and the Caja recentlynegotiated a new mortgage for the organization’sshelter in Liberia, capital of thenorthwestern province of Guanacaste,avoiding the closure of that facility, HogarCrea still owes the Caja ¢48 million($101,053), with monthly payments of¢1.3 million ($2,731).When Hogar Crea made its first monthlypayment Tuesday, the Caja removed itsdelinquent status, opening the door fordonations. At press time, however, nofunds had been received.The closing of Hogar Crea shelterswould have dire consequences for thecountry’s drug addicts and homeless,Echeverría said.“Hogar Creaprovides half thebeds (for drugr e h a b i l i t a t i o n )nationwide,” shesaid. “We can’t dowithout this program.”IN addition toHogar Crea’s debtto the Caja, amajor factor in itslack of funds isthe Finance Ministry’srefusal toturn over fundsdestined by lawto the Institute ofAlcoholism andDrug Abuse (IAFA),Echeverría said.Though Law 7972 states that theFinance Ministry must turn over funds fromtaxes on tobacco and alcohol to IAFA, whichin turn must distribute the funds to HogarCrea and other NGOs that offer drug rehabilitation,the ministry has not provided themoney – a common occurrence in recentmonths, since Finance Minister FedericoCarrillo says the government cannot affordthe payments some tax laws require.Hogar Crea, founded in PuertoRico and now operating throughout the Americas, has supported itself on privatedonations and the sales of school supplies,candies and other products on street cornersand buses.However, communities are becomingless receptive to the yellow-shirt-clad shelterresidents who go out to sell the products,Jiménez said.“People say things to the (shelter residents),offending them,” Jiménez said.Increased government demand forHogar Crea’s services appears to have contributedto the organization’s financialproblems.Earlier this year, the Municipality ofSan José, along with the Mixed Institutefor Social Aid (IMAS), decided to participatein Hogar Crea’s bimonthly “Crusadesof Hope and Faith,” when volunteers andcurrent shelter residents go out into thestreets and allow any homeless person whoexpresses interest to enter a shelter.With government funding and volunteersfor the efforts, the first two “crusades”of 2005 brought in unprecedentednumbers of new residents to the shelters.However, Hogar Crea and the other organizationsthat helped shoulder the increasedburden, such as the Salvation Army, didnot receive government funding for thenew residents’ treatment (TT, April 1).ECHEVERRÍA said the scramble forHogar Crea funds is only one aspect ofwhat community leaders say will bestronger, better-informed efforts to help thehomeless from now on, using the resultsfrom a study of homeless people in SanJosé.Earlier this year, workers from IMASand the Municipality of San José conducted204 interviews – asking questions aboutpeople’s basic information, personal historiesand drug and alcohol habits – at 23“hot spots” for homelessness around thecity (TT, Feb. 25).San José Mayor Johnny Araya, whopresented the results of the study May 24,said knowledge about the homeless populationis power.“This has been one of our top-priorityprojects,” he said of the study. “If we wantto find the solution to a problem as complexas homelessness, we have to, as a firststep, get to know the problem.”MOST of the 204 homeless peoplesurveyed were adult males addicted todrugs or alcohol. Only 11% said they consumedneither; 22% consume drugs, 35%consume alcohol and 32% consume both.Fifty-three respondents said they beganconsuming drugs before age 17. Almost allrespondents who had been living on thestreets for fewer than 20 years said theybegan using drugs before becoming homeless.More people use crack than any otherdrug. According to Jiménez, crack, relativelynew to the Costa Rican market, is theprimary culprit in driving people to thestreets, since it creates faster, more severeaddictions than other drugs (TT, March11). Araya pointed to crack’s relatively lowprices as another reason for its popularity.Araya pointed out that 50% said theyattend more than one center where food,clothes and other resources are available,suggesting some NGOs are creating dependence.“There are people who go to eat breakfasttwice, or have lunch twice,” Arayasaid, adding that one goal of the study is tohelp NGOs coordinate their efforts toavoid repetition.ECHEVERRÍA said one outcome of aMay 26 meeting held at the municipaloffices to discuss the study results, a workshopthat included 16 public institutions, 11NGOs and private-sector representativessuch as the Costa Rican Chamber ofCommerce, was a decision that theTechnical Commission on Homelessness ofthe San José Social Council will write a proposalfor a public policy on homelessness.According to Echeverría, this will fill avoid – Costa Rica has no such public policyin place – and “establish the powers andresponsibilities of each institution.” Thecommission will present the proposal tothe Social Council, composed of Araya andrepresentatives from IAFA, IMAS andother organizations.Participants in the meeting also decidedon a three-fold strategy involvingincreased communication and supportamong the government, NGOs and the privatesector, in the areas of social aid, rehabilitationand incorporation into the workforce.The latter has received very little attentionin Costa Rica to date, Echeverría said,but work is now under way to create aSalvation Army-run job-training center inSan José.
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