PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti -- People began moving off the parking lot at the National Stadium in the capital Friday after Haiti's government paid them to clear out off the spot that has been their home since last year's earthquake.
At least 30 families cleared their belongings from tents and shelters and left for an unknown destination.
The people camped outside the stadium are among the 30,000 Haitians that the government says it plans move from six major camps into neighborhoods that are slated to be rebuilt. Eighteen months after the disaster, an estimated 634,000 people still live in 1,000 settlement camps, according to the International Organization for Migration.
City officials in Port-au-Prince are paying families at the National Stadium $250 each to leave the parking lot, said Pierre-Richard Duplan, a representative from the National Palace. The government wants the lot available for stadium events.
Duplan, Port-au-Prince Mayor Jean Yves Jason, and Haitian police officers showed up Friday morning to begin the relocation effort. Employees from Haiti's Civil Protection Office came, too, setting up tables to jot down the names of 444 families who have been living on the parking lot.
Patrick Rouzier, the housing and reconstruction adviser to President Michel Martelly, said Friday night that the government's relocation efforts include the stadium but said that the program had not officially begun.
"Our plan has not started yet," Rouzier said by telephone, adding that he had met with Jason on Thursday and would look into the staidum relocation effort Saturday. "He chose to go ahead."
Rouzier said he didn't know Duplan.
Several camp dwellers told The Associated Press that city employees told them they were being moved to a field along Rue Bicentanaire, a thoroughfare sandwiched between the bay and downtown Port-au-Prince. But later in the day, they learned that the alternate site wasn't ready and they had nowhere to go.
"I depend on this place to sleep," Lisson Pierre-Louis said as government employees spray-painted red X's on shelters to be dismantled. "With this money, you can't even put down rent (in advance) for a room. Now I'm out on the street."
Efforts to house quake survivors have been held up because of a shortage of land and housing, questions over land titles and a spike in rents. Some have opted to stay in camps even if they have a home somewhere or relatives outside the capital, because they are living rent-free and they get clean water, health care and free schooling – all services the government rarely provided before the earthquake.
The number of people living in settlements after the quake was as high as 1.5 million but the number dropped in part because of evictions. In dozens of places, from shopping plazas to school yards, property owners have made people move out.
The International Organization for Migration said nearly a quarter of the remaining camp dwellers have received pressure from landowners to leave, with an eviction rate that outpaces the ability of Haitian officials and humanitarian workers to provide housing.
City officials began to pay camp dwellers to leave a public plaza in the hills above Port-au-Prince in March. They turned to forced evictions in June when a mayor kicked out several hundred people from public squares and a church yard. Police officers slashed apart the shelters with knives and machetes.
Rights groups called for a moratorium on evictions until the government provides a housing alternative.
Associated Press writer Evens Sanon contributed to this report.