Homelessness and other Realities of the American Dream

By José Luis Méndez Méndez on February 2, 2023

photo: Bill Hackwell

More than 95% of the population of the city of Hialeah is of Cuban origin. There is a slogan that seems to be the key that unlocks the city: “Hialeah is more Cuba, it has human warmth. That’s what this country lacks,” say two sales clerks at “Tu Café,” a business that has been open in this Floridian city since the late 1960s.

In addition to the administrative dalliance, which excuses its bad procedure to confront homelessness by alleging unusually high rents, which provoke the exodus to the streets, there are other mechanisms that are a reality, such as police repression of the homeless. A complaint of mistreatment of the homeless is being investigated by the Hialeah Police Department of two police officers facing charges of kidnapping and assaulting a homeless person.

Police Officers Lorenzo Rodriguez and Rafael Quinos, 22 and 27 years old respectively, are accused of abusing 55 year old Jose Ortega Gutierrez,  a resident of the streets of Hialeah. According to the complaint, the uniformed officers took the homeless man from the Los Tres Conejitos business and took him to a distant open field where they arrested him and handcuffed him in an isolated and dark area,, than beat him and violently threw him to the ground.

The blunt blows caused him to lose consciousness and when he awoke he was alone, abandoned and bleeding from the forehead. The aggressors were veterans, despite their young age, of the Police Department, Rodriguez with 4 years of service and Quinos with 5 years on the force. The victim was found by another police officer.

The dark event uncovered other immoralities of the police force. Another player in the case Ali Amin Saleh was arrested on charges of witness tampering. According to the investigative file, Ali approached the victim twelve days after the incident posing as a “private detective” and asked him to sign an affidavit, which had already been notarized, where he acknowledged not having been beaten by the two officers and in exchange he was offered 1,350 dollars, a strange figure.

Knowing that he was homeless and in need of resources, the victim signed the statement and took the money but the attempted cover up was exposed by the GPS of the patrol car used in the crime that showed that they had deviated from their work route and the location placed them in the place of the of where the attack took place while the police body cameras turned off.

Meanwhile the Mayor’s Office considers that the city has not yet reached the point of needing shelters to house the homeless, although owners of commercial establishments have complained because many of these homeless people sleep in front of stores, the voiceless and homeless are seen more frequently in the vicinity of hardware stores. It is estimated that the phenomenon must be corrected from the human point of view, but also from the sanitary point of view because it could turn these shelters into areas of violence.

There are emblematic cases of homeless people who have been part of the city’s folklore and culture for decades, such is the case of Arturo Baez, a 59-year-old Cuban, visibly affected by sunburn and sores on his skin from mosquito bites, who says he has lived on the streets of Hialeah for more than 40 years.

Arturo left Cuba and came with his family to the United States: his sisters, mom and grandmother. “I’ve been on the streets of Hialeah since we moved to this country in 1982,” he lamented. The man said that the biggest risk of living on the streets is that “they want to take your money. The devil wants to take advantage of you, but I am tired. I have nowhere to lay my head. If you feel bad, there is no one to call. I’m alone against the demons.”

The dazzling city of Hialeah is part of Miami-Dade County, Florida, but this state has the third largest number of homeless people in the United States, not to mention that in the city, there are so many that their number is unknown.

The state of Florida, 27,487 homeless people,  with only California, 161,582 and New York, with 91, 271, recording more according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH), the only federal agency whose mission is focused on preventing and ending homelessness in the country.

The five Florida counties with the highest number of homeless are: Miami-Dade, with 3,224 people; Broward, with 2,561; Pinellas, with 2,307; Orange, with 1,162; and Duval, with 1,137, according to 2021 data from the Florida Department of Health.

Recently, the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) visited Miami to analyze the reality of homelessness. She expressed, “I think we overlook homelessness in this country.” “In the greatest nation in the world, almost 500,000 people are sleeping on the streets… every night. It’s a travesty”. But  nobody really knows how many homeless people there are because it is in shadows and moves constantly.

The American dream is becoming more and more of a nightmare for many and the trend shows no sign of improving anytime soon.

José Luis Méndez Méndez  is a university professor and author of “Bajo las alas del Condor”, “La Operación Condor contra Cuba” and “Demócratas en la Casa Blanca y el terrorismo contra Cuba”. He is a contributor to Cubadebate and Resumen Latinoamericano.

Source: Cuba en Resumen