In 9 months, a thousand homeless people died in Mexico

Hermelinda was 31 years old, originally from Hidalgo and had lived on the streets of Mexico City since she was 14. Friends and acquaintances, who called her “Herme” or “Chinita”, remember that the last time they saw her alive was on June 5, 2021, when she accepted the invitation to go to a shelter and got into a van, in the Historic Center area. Eight months later, the association El Caracol learned that he died, without the causes being known to this day.
“Herme didn’t want to get to a mass grave,” Luis Enrique Hernández, director of El Caracol, said in an interview. The association, dedicated to supporting street populations with legal procedures and human rights education, has been carrying out an annual count of deaths of homeless people for more than a decade. For the period from January to September 2022, Hermelinda’s was one of the thousand registered. 
Although Hermelinda’s death occurred in the context of her admission to a shelter, there is still no explanation about what happened. According to Hernández, because she did not have papers and was not claimed by a relative, the woman arrived at the Institute of Forensic Sciences (Incifo) as an unknown, where they did not perform an autopsy or allow her acquaintances to recover her body so that it would not end up in the mass grave.

According to the last official census carried out in the CDMX on the situation of street populations, in 2018, 22% of the 6,754 people who lived on the streets did not have identity documents. Today, it is unknown how many are in this situation, which puts them at risk of dying without having the possibility of being recognized or claimed.
Of the thousand people from street towns whose death was registered by El Caracol in the country between January and September 2022, 899 died as unknown. The only thing that is known about them is that 83.4% were men and 11.1% women.
In the case of CDMX, where the organization is based, Hernández points out that 84 deaths were registered, of 64 men and 12 women. Most occurred in the municipalities of Cuauhtémoc (21), Iztapalapa (12), Gustavo A. Madero (10) and Venustiano Carranza (9).

Traffic accidents and lethal violence
Of the cases with which information is available on the causes of death in the CDMX, the main ones were traffic accidents (9), fights and aggressions (9), hypothermia (6) and suicide (5).
Read: Street populations in the face of COVID-19
When disaggregating the data by sex, the association found that 33.3% of women’s deaths were committed with femicidal violence and that 26.73% of men were killed intentionally. In no case is there any record of persons being arrested or sentenced for these crimes.
“Although there is little information, the relevant thing is that with these data there is the possibility of making visible that those who live on the street are dying from events linked to violence, which invites us to reflect on how to promote actions so that the phenomenon is recognized and that these people can be remembered, and as their own colleagues say, they can also be mourned, like anyone in a similar situation,” says Hernandez.
The data of the campaign “Chiras Pelas Calacas Flacas” were presented on Wednesday by El Caracol in a forum, in which the organization called on the authorities to work in favor of street populations, who continue to die from “excessively preventable causes linked to the state of poverty and precariousness through which they go in life.”
During the meeting, the director of El Caracol stressed that so far there is no public policy at the local or national level to serve street populations, beyond the offer to go to shelters, spaces to which many people refuse to go, because they denounce that they are in poor conditions or that they receive mistreatment.
“The only prevention work there is, so far, is the one we have with the campaign, which brings us closer to them to talk about the risks for the population on the streets, which serves to implement harm reduction models. In a pandemic, for example, we talk about the importance of vaccines, and we permanently touch on the issue of drug use or violence and their rights,” he added.

The fear of ending up in the mass grave
Among the specialists who attended the forum was Rosalinda Rodríguez, who spoke about her experience living on the street. He left his home in Acapulco, Guerrero, at age 13, where he suffered physical abuse and sexual abuse during his childhood. Since then, he made the avenues of the CDMX his home and there he saw more than one of his companions die..
“When the kids are injured or get sick, it happens that we ask for ambulances, but they do not arrive. People are indifferent when a street kid dies, they always put us aside, but between us we are like a family, for me they are my brothers, cousins and uncles, and that is why when someone dies we care about recovering the body, so that they do not go to the common grave, “he explained.
Rosalinda is part of the 1% of people who, according to El Caracol, manage to get out of life on the streets. With the support of the association, she managed to process her identity documents, and was able to rent a room where she now lives with her two daughters. Despite this, the woman told those attending the forum that the fear of ending up in the mass grave still accompanies her.
“El Caracol helped me get off the streets with my daughters. But it’s hard for me to look for a job to sustain this life, and I’m sick… The truth is that I am afraid, afraid of leaving my daughters and that they will have to go through the same thing that I lived, and that they throw me into a mass grave because I have no more family,” she said.
That is why, in addition to selling basket tacos and cleaning windshields, he continues to collaborate closely with El Caracol and lives with those who were his life partners in the streets, whom he supports to try to recover the bodies of those who die without identity.
“When you live on the streets you know them closely, their scars, tattoos, their names and nicknames. Sometimes that is the only thing that allows us to prove that they are them when their bodies are transferred by the forensic authorities and they have to be claimed in the Public Ministry, although in recent years it has been impossible to recover them. There are more and more requirements,” he added.
In this regard, Hernández indicated that in the last three years the association has not managed to recover the bodies of people in street situations. Previously, it was enough to prove that the person had a network of acquaintances who claimed the body, but now the presentation of a relative is required.
Given this situation, this year the association decided to pay tribute to those people from street towns who have died in the CDMX by placing crosses with their names in the places where most of the deaths have been registered.
In the vicinity of the Juárez, Cuauhtémoc, Candelaria, Tasqueña, Garibaldi and La Raza Metro stations, where groups of people from street populations are concentrated, black crosses were placed in which it reads: “In memory of all the people who inhabited the street and lost their lives. We will always remember them.”

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Original source in Spanish

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