As a tourist in Spain, the sight of the homeless on the streets might seem quite familiar, since every major city around the world has the same scenario. However, in Barcelona, the homeless do not fit a stereotypical classification. The deep marks entrenched by the 2008 economic crisis left 3,000 people without jobs, out of which 940 had no choice but to sleep on the streets and occupy public spaces. The homeless range in nationality anywhere from Spaniards to Eastern Europeans, South Americans and Sub Saharan migrants.
From 2004-2012, The Institute for National Statistics (INE) conducted a nationwide study on the number of people living on the streets. However, the results were limited to those who were registered within social assistance centres. Therefore, only 22,938 people were taken into account, without considering undocumented migrants.
Last year, the Barcelona City Council announced the 2016-2020 “Housing First” project, which is a 15 million euro investment campaign for combating homelessness. The government announced the project as a top priority in creating adequate housing for people who have been living on the streets for more than three years. Nevertheless, again, the project covers only those who are registered with the social services.
Furthermore, when the Popular Party won the elections, social services began to be privatised, therefore businesses were keen on their own success and benefit, rather than extending an extra hand. Most companies and the majority of NGOs work for the homeless but without directly involving or hearing their voices.
Vasile Petrascu – a former construction worker turned scrap metal collector, of Romanian origin, explains that he has lived in Barcelona for nearly six years and access to medical assistance and social care is nearly impossible. Even with EU citizenship, after a visit to the emergency room, he was left with a 200 euro bill, because he did not have a NIE card. Also, the treatment he needs is out of his reach, since it is too expensive. Vasile survives on 10-15 euros on a good day. He says that there are many Romanian families in Barcelona who are in the same desperate situation. Most sleep on park benches, make-shift shelters on open fields, or at best, occupy deserted buildings.
Although the current government has prioritized combatting homelessness through the Housing First project, for starters, lack of monitoring tools in providing adequate statistics means that only some are eligible for such benefits. For others, sleeping on the streets is the only visibility they have from social exclusion.
Text and Photos: Iulia Dofin. See the photo gallery.