GUATEMALA CITY – As night falls and the thermometer plunges, a dozen homeless people line up across the street from the cathedral in downtown Guatemala City trying to fend off a winter that Christmas does not make any warmer.
Sweaters, jackets and coats hang from a rope with a sign that reads: “Are you cold? Take one. Want to help? Give one.”
Carlos, a gentle but wary man, looks around before approaching the rope and hesitates before taking a coat.
The bitter cold nights in Guatemala City have stung his skin, but Carlos does not want a handout.
“I’ll grab one because, at night, the temperature drops and I don’t have a place to sleep,” he told EFE. “But, I don’t want alms, I want a job.”
Ten years ago, Carlos lost his job as an administrative assistant and now, at 60, without a pension or family, he does not have anyone to help him.
The government, Carlos said, only provides shelters to spend the night, a bandaid for a problem of epidemic proportions.
Like Carlos, many others, including children and elderly people, can be seen on the city’s streets without appropriate winter clothing, trying to earn a penny by selling bananas and flowers, washing windshields or juggling on the pavement as red lights stop the flow of traffic.
Since November, the national emergency management office has assisted more than 1,500 people affected by the cold weather in the Central American country.
About 100 indigent residents were provided with assistance over Christmas weekend.
“I’ve been on the streets six years,” Carlos said. “I am not a drunkard or a thief. If I get a few quetzals, I use them to buy food.”
“I sleep under a bridge or in a park, curling up by a tree,” the homeless man told EFE. “The place doesn’t matter much, what is important is to find a quiet place. There’s so much crime.”
In August, police reported a wave of attacks on homeless people, with 29 assaults and 21 homicides.
A suspect, identified as Moises Gutierrez Guevara, was arrested for one of the murders.
Investigators determined that the 50-year-old suspect tried to sexually assault a homeless man, who died at a hospital a few days after the attack.