The Interfaith Works/Community Visions Homeless Shelter in Silver Spring serves a portion of the hundreds of homeless people in Montgomery County. This includes Latino day laborers, many of whom have a hard time making ends meet during the cold winter months.
Usually those who spent the night at the shelter are asked to leave, but not on this day, as several dozen men and women sign up for the hypothermia list. Outside the temperature is in the low teens, so they will be able to stay indoors.
Evelio Rodriguez, 57, is in the rec room where most of the people on the hypothermia list hang out when they aren’t doing caretaking chores around the building.
Rodriguez, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, has been coming to the Interfaith/Community Works shelter for the past three winters.
During the spring, summer and most of the fall, Rodriguez says he shares a small rental apartment in Langley Park with four to six other day workers, but when winter hits, Rodriguez finds it impossible to pay even a few hundred dollars a month in rent and also send money to his wife and children in Honduras.
“If you can’t pay you’re out on the street,” Rodriguez says with a shrug.
Rodriguez says it’s harder to find steady landscaping and construction day jobs during the cold weather.
“The employers naturally want energetic, strong young men and that takes away job opportunities,” he explains.
Rodriguez’s story is a familiar one to Gabriel Santos. He’s a case manager at the shelter and says he sees more and more underemployed older male Latinos in need of help during the winter months.
“They have been in the country for more than 10 years working in the labor jobs, but when they are older it is difficult because people who are looking for workers, they like young people who are strong and they can work for long hours,” Santos says.
It’s unclear exactly how many Latino immigrants are in a position similar to Rodriguez’s. The shelter doesn’t break down information about its clients by gender, ethnicity, age or immigration status. Neither does Montgomery County, which estimates there were 891 homeless people in the jurisdiction last year. This year’s tally will be announced in April.
Rodriguez first came to Maryland in 1996 to better support his family. For the next four years, he toiled as a day worker.
He saved a few pennies, he says. It was actually $15,000 and returned to Honduras in 2000. He bought land, built a small house and planted coffee, oranges and bananas.
But by late 2008, tough times in Honduras forced Rodriguez to again return to Maryland illegally. In five years, Rodriguez has managed to save a fraction of what he made during his first trip. His age, combined with the fact that there are fewer jobs and fewer employers willing to hire undocumented workers, is forcing his hand. Still, he’s not quite ready to give up yet.
“I’m giving it a few more years and then I’m going back,” he says.