MIAMI — It took months of trekking across Central America to escape economic hardship in Venezuela and get to Miami for Karen Ugas, her husband and her five kids.
They needed everything — food, clothes, a place to live and most of all, a plan to figure out their next step in a new country — and a lot of faith.
Ugas says she and her family now are slowly getting their lives on track and finding community thanks to a local organization, Hermanos de la Calle (Brothers of the Street). The group helps Miami’s unhoused population find places to live, including freshly arrived migrants who may be seeking asylum.
And the group depends on the help of religious institutions like the Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood to tackle housing for homeless migrants.
On Sunday, Ugas’ children were baptized along with several other kids of migrant families at Corpus Christi. The ceremony reflects broader efforts by Miami’s faith-based communities that are often on the front lines of assisting the homeless.
Finding community in church has helped the migrants at the ceremony find hope and a sense of belonging in a foreign place, many said.
“Thank God, I have received a lot of support from the organization,” Ugas said after the baptism ceremony. “If it weren’t for them I don’t know what we’d be doing.”
Hermanos, a part of the Homeless Trust provider network, has been helping people experiencing homelessness find permanent housing, access to healthcare and employment opportunities since 2015.
“We serve the migrants that have nowhere to go,” said Hermanos executive director Malena Legarre. “We think what we did today is great because we combined two things: You become part of a community and you become part of a community of love that Christianity can give you.”
While there are hundreds of thousands of migrants and exiles arriving in Miami every year ( a 400 percent increase since October 2022), Hermanos de la Calle says they try to assist people who are at the highest-risk: Those without a family or a support system here.
“They arrive to Miami, and they don’t know anything about Miami,” said Narciso Muñoz, founder and president of Hermanos de la Calle. “Most of them don’t even have a telephone here, nobody knows where they are, nobody knows that they have arrived.”
At the ceremony, which took place after Corpus Christi’s 11 a.m. Mass, families fawned over their newborns and toddlers as they were sprinkled with holy water by Father José Luis Menéndez. As Menéndez prayed over each child in Spanish, relatives took photos commemorating the sacrament, which in the Catholic faith represents the death of one’s original sin and rebirth as a new member of the church. Throughout Sunday’s service, Menéndez discussed the importance of having a Catholic community to rely on during difficult times.
Hermanos has received federal funding from United Way Miami to help newly-arrived migrants find temporary housing and meet other basic needs like food, school supplies and vaccinations. Many of the migrants, from countries such as Venezuela, Cuba, Honduras, Colombia and Guatemala, are seeking asylum and have been granted temporary legal status until their immigration court date — which for some isn’t until 2026.
“We believe that giving this opportunity for them to be part of this community is going to be very fruitful at this moment of their lives,” Legarre said. “They have been suffering so much on their journey.”
Aside from the risk of homelessness, migrants who are waiting to obtain a temporary work permit face the risk of being coerced into dangerous situations — like gangs or human trafficking — once they arrive. It’s not uncommon for a young migrant to be approached by someone pressuring them to engage in prostitution, Muñoz said.
“Some of them get in a very desperate situation and maybe take risks that they shouldn’t be taking,” Muñoz said. “It’s very important that these people have some type of protection.”
The migrants at the ceremony come with struggles that can rock anyone’s faith. Alba Garcia, 29, has a 9-month-old son who was born with a heart defect and is getting surgery next month. She was recently hit with an eviction notice. She wanted to have her son baptized in the Catholic church before his surgery.