One-Way Ticket to Homelessness: The Victimization of Puerto Rico’s Addicts

Apr 14, 2015
9:26 AM

This weekend we heard a story discussing the systematic “exporting” of drug addicts from many Puerto Rican municipalities to Chicago. We were disturbed both by the policy and by the way in which the story was framed in the pieces we heard.

The stories we heard emphasized a corruption scheme in which Puerto Rican municipal authorities sent out what they considered as nuisances and sketchy “rehabilitation” organizations, often claiming to represent Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), left them to the streets, taking for themselves their government benefits. The story is, indeed important, but we expect it to be framed in different terms.

The idea of exportation of humans as goods or merchandise is abhorrent. The treatment scam targeting our community seems discriminatory. The reports we heard did not consider the colonial context, implying that only Puerto Ricans were at fault. There is certainly much to be blamed on Puerto Rican authorities. The stories do indict a corrupt system that has been perpetuated and sustained by politicians, but not just on the island, but also on the mainland. Victim blaming Puerto Rico alone on this is irresponsible. The reports somewhat suggest Puerto Rico is drug infested and backward, yet they don’t mention the many U.S. municipalities that have also been involved in this kind of practice. As early as 2009, The New York Times reported a “one-way ticket” program to reduce New York City of its homeless population. By 2011 these programs had created many problems in Puerto Rico. At the time, Dr. José A. Vargas Vidot, founder of Iniciativa Comunitaria, stated that other mainland states, like Illinois, Connecticut, Florida and California were also sending addicted homeless people back to the island.


The shuffling of addicted homeless people is a major problem that should be addressed way beyond the identification of a particularly Puerto Rican pathology. It is a problem that is being faced by Puerto Ricans, but is one that goes way beyond the island. The story we heard this weekend is not going to the root to find out who benefits from these pernicious occurrences. The language used with Puerto Ricans is dehumanizing: export, illegal. These are words used to speak of merchandise, not people.

Our fellow Rebelde and one of our most outspoken boricuas, Marlena Fitzpatrick, argues:

This trend may be multi-faceted. And it responds to the enslavement instituted through the prison system. While these scams may be not-for-profit institutions, it is very well documented that our prison system is, in fact, for-profit. The mass incarceration our community suffers serves a particular Machiavellian purpose. Although this report talks about addicts who end up homeless, what about addicts ending up in prison? This is the population that ends up in jail, sometimes for an overwhelming amount of time. What if, the hidden agenda is for the addict to re-offend, and end up in the system, adding ‘un-deportable manpower’? After all, we’re talking about American citizens.

Trying to wrap our heads around this disturbing issue, we’re conducting a thorough investigative report. We’ve lined up a handful of reliable sources for several interviews. For starters, we talked to Jaclyn Díaz, a Puerto Rican born and raised in Chicago, who works as a medical assistant and case worker for a non-profit organization specialized in substance abuse. She states:

I work with Latino substance abusers. I want to say I noticed the scam about 3 years ago. After getting to know my clients they told me about how they found out about these rehabilitation places. Their family pays money for their loved one to get help and all they get is a place on a dirty floor to sleep. Once here, if they cannot quit their drug of choice “cold turkey” they usually are found homeless, panhandling and or stealing to survive. This is growing problem. If you drive through any neighborhood in Chicago that has high drug crime, most of the substance abuse users are Puerto Rican and a lot are from Puerto Rico. Some of these institutions call themselves ‘AA’ (Alcoholic Anonymous) groups, but they really are not. They are stealing that name and methodology. They use religion as a base for everything they do. Walking into most of these places is depressing and discouraging. I love helping people and I feel that this community and their families have suffered enough and they should know the truth.

It seems these organizations are simply relying on the family’s money or donations for self-sustaining purposes. One may wonder what the ulterior motives behind this tactic are. Who should we blame for this? What is the model for this export idea? Which are the groups that are taking financial advantage of this crisis? Are they of religious backgrounds? If they are, do they receive any tax breaks from the government? How many of these patients are veterans? What are the laws, rules and regulations permitting this kind of policy, if any? How is the process now revealed by public radio different from the earlier movements of homeless addicts that were reported half a decade ago? Why is Puerto Rico considered different now?

In hopes to find an answer —or at least a reaction— to the report, Marlena contacted her father, Dr. Mario Fitzpatrick Usera, a renowned Puerto Rican social worker and author of Del asilo de insanos a Wall Street:


A few days ago I heard a report from a radio journalist via a local Chicago station indicating that Puerto Rico is “exporting” addicts and homeless young people to that and other U.S. cities. This claim was confirmed by several interviews with victims of such “exportation.” Locally (in Puerto Rico), news spread via Univisión Puerto Rico, confirming such practice, and raising deep concern regarding this situation.

Legitimate non-profit institutions in the Island apparently are not involving themselves in, nor sponsoring the process of addicts’ migration. It is publicly recognized that, for instance, Hogares Crea operates within its own system, as is Iniciativa Comunitaria. The inhumane practice of “dumping” youngsters who are interested in adhering to a sane lifestyle via rehabilitation and therapeutic services seems not to be an official policy of any health care organization in Puerto Rico. This practice does not respond to any rehabilitative perspective or model known to mental health professionals or volunteers.

The “dumping” practice may be responding to some as of yet mysterious scheme involving economic stimuli and promised rewards. History has taught us that “removal strategies” have been put to practice before. For instance, the transport of sugar cane cutters from Puerto Rico to Hawaii; the massive migration of low-income Puerto Rican families to New York; hiding low-income families from cities under the umbrella of “Urban Renewal.” It is imperative and urgent that this practice be investigated and, as a result of it, responsible people be exposed and denounced under applicable laws.

This is what Latino Rebels intend to do. Stay tuned for the second part of this report.