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100 days after Haiti quake, LDS relief efforts persevere

Published: Friday, April 23 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

The LDS Church is launching an ambitious program of temporary housing kits in Haiti. Transitional housing allows people to prepare their own site and assemble a house from a kit that includes lumber, corrugated tin for a roof, cement and hurricane straps for the roof.

Intellectual Reserve Inc.

Editor's note: Second in a four-part series looking back at post-quake efforts in Haiti as Utahns and the LDS Church rushed to help provide humanitarian aid.

SALT LAKE CITY — Three months after Haiti's Jan. 12 earthquake, the numbers seem overwhelming — a death toll climbing toward a projected 300,000 and a million or more Haitians homeless.

Humanitarian relief efforts by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have resulted in equally considerable totals — more than a million pounds of food delivered and another half-million pounds of additional relief supplies provided.

And temporary shelters built through LDS-sponsored efforts? Just five.

More than 1,000 times that many Haitians took refuge after the quake in tents and on blankets on LDS meetinghouse grounds throughout Port-au-Prince.

Five shelters — it certainly wasn't from a lack of desire or effort.

Nor is it any different than what other charity and relief NGOs — non-governmental organizations — are experiencing in Haiti, said Lynn Samsel, the LDS Church's director of humanitarian emergency response and community services.

"It's a challenge not just for us — it's something every NGO and relief organization is struggling with there," said Samsel, citing the Red Cross' projections to build 50,000 small shelters in Port-au-Prince; they've constructed about 1,000 to date.

After spending five days in Haiti soon after the quake, he returned last month for two weeks to oversee the anticipated building of hundreds of shelters for families recommended by local LDS bishops after meeting certain criteria.

One key stipulation — proving ownership of a parcel of property at least 11 feet by 14 feet or having permission from the actual owner to reside for a minimum of two years.

Employing local cash-for-work crews, Samsel and LDS humanitarian officials were ready to start building the simple shelters — each one 9 feet wide by 12 feet wide, with a tin roof, a double-layer of tarp on all four sides and, if possible, a poured-concrete floor.

Seemingly simplistic, they were more stable and secure than some shelters built by other organizations. And considerably more stable compared to Port-au-Prince's bloated "tent cities" — tents and shacks crudely crafted from blankets, tarps, cardboard, tin and boards.

Once ready to start, the LDS effort faced hurdle after hurdle.

The availability of building supplies was consistently inconsistent — one day, no lumber; the next, no hardware — and so on.

The greatest challenge was a lack of appropriate or ready property — some still buried in debris, some inaccessible because of surrounding rubble, some threatened by unstable neighboring structures, and some without proper ownership or permission.

The church has since hired a local building contractor to oversee future efforts while continuing to donate to other NGOs, such as International Relief and Development, which is building multi-shelter communities on open properties.

Soon after Haiti's quake, the LDS Church began its blitz of food and relief supplies and sent its first-ever volunteer team of doctors and nurses — 14 specializing in trauma, orthopedics and emergency care — to provide early response medical aid.

Besides trying to provide shelter, the church's primary focuses are establishing a bishop's storehouse to store and distribute provisions and aiding in employment opportunities.

The LDS Church has property and plans to build a bishop's storehouse in Haiti, but the Freres neighborhood land is still housing some 360 homeless, with the meetinghouse grounds now clear of temporary residents.

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