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Where is the empathy? Going inside of El Paso’s homeless culture

SalmaPaola Baca
Migrants await entry into shelter to escape harsh winter.

As the winter season prolongs, the frigid temperatures can become more of an inconvenience to any local. For those without a place to call home, it becomes a battle for survival. Given the migrant influx over the past year and various situations that can lead to people losing their homes, cold nights bring no form of comfort to anyone left stranded.  

There are many reasons why people or even families get displaced from their homes. According to, 1,112 homeless individuals were living in either shelters or the streets of El Paso in 2023. 16.8% of that population are migrants seeking asylum and with the wrath of winter, that number is expected to rise.  

The Rescue Mission of El Paso, a non-profit organization, provides a temporary homes to people who do not have a roof over their heads. Director of Marketing, Daniela Ramos says the biggest challenge is providing basic needs when the shelter has no direct source of income.  

“Our motto is to give a hand up, not a handout, so being able to provide the set of resources beyond food, water, and a roof over their head and blankets when it’s cold is extremely difficult when you have no source of income,” Ramos said. “You depend on people’s kindness and generosity.” 

The people who work with the homeless community everyday say the community plays a major role in supporting homeless shelters across the borderland with donations and volunteering. However, the Rescue Mission of El Paso calls for more support from the community to get migrants and those in need back on their feet.   

El Paso local, Aaron Bustamante, expressed his opinion on how he witnesses homeless individuals daily.  

“I feel for anyone who doesn’t have a warm meal or a roof over their head but in most cases the homeless put their life on the line and end up where they are at,” Bustamante said. “I used to give out spare change and often as I could but now it just seems like a gateway for everyone to pity them.” 

Many El Pasoans have the idea that some people in the homeless community put themselves in their situations, but Ramos says that is just a timid perspective the majority may have. 

“There is a lack of empathy. In analyzing them, many reduce them to one narrative, and it is not very human of us,” Ramos said. “They have been victims in many ways but they also accept that they have been made responsible because of it and now they’re here with us working how to navigate that.” 

Rescue Mission of El Paso provides drug and alcohol relapse prevention programs for men and women seeking freedom from addiction through Christ-centered recovery. 

“Some of our programs are about dealing with pain and being able to live with pain without resorting to other things that keep them on the streets.” Ramos said.  

Out of the 1,112 homeless in El Paso County, 43.3% report having long-term disabilities, 37.7% with zero income, 23.9% report having mental conditions, and 26.1% are children.  

Within the shelter, individuals are welcomed with a warm meal and compassion amongst the entire staff. Displaced civilians are able to gather at the Rescue Mission of El Paso for certain needs as long as needed, until they know their next move.  

Sandra Leon, a local citizen struggling to find shelter, talks about how some days can be mentally challenging for not knowing what her next step in life is.  

“I worry that I am stuck this way forever, I know there are some shelters who can help but thinking about where I will end up isn’t always promising,” Leon said.  

Ramos says the rest of the El Paso community can help out by volunteering or donating to any shelter around the city. 

The Rescue Mission of El Paso is accepting donations of canned goods, over-the-counter medications, diapers, blankets and warm clothes for all ages. Donations are accepted any day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. located at 221 N. Lee St. To contact the Rescue Mission of El Paso call (915) 532-2575.  

Marco Hinojosa is the audience and engagement editor and may be reached at [email protected]  

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About the Contributors
Marco Hinojosa, Audience and Engagement
Marco Hinojosa is the audience and engagement editor for The Prospector. He is a junior at the University of Texas at El Paso majoring multimedia journalism with a minor in criminal justice. He plans to broaden his horizons as a journalist and work for a major broadcast company.
SalmaPaola Baca, Photographer
SalmaPaola Baca is a senior at UTEP majoring in engineering innovation and leadership with a concentration and minor in civil engineering and an emphasis in computer science. Her passion for photography enables her to be photographer at The Prospector. While a full-time student, she freelances while planning to grow her platform through travel photography. After graduating, she wants to pursue a master’s degree in architecture while working on her photography simultaneously.
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    Cathy HinojosaFeb 3, 2024 at 1:03 PM

    I truly feel that due to the influx of migrants crossing into El Paso on a daily basis this has placed a burden not only on the shelters but on those homeless that have been in El Paso who were getting by but now even they struggle to find shelter
    So Marco you are right where is the empathy that’s the problem after awhile people just seem to not notice to not care that all of them need help not just the immigrants but the homeless too
    Hopefully after reading your article people will reach into their hearts and help each other
    Thank you