On the planet, the difference in access to goods, comforts and even basic necessities such as housing and food, separate people and define the challenges they face along. Those who live on the street, in the open or without a stable roof to call home must contrive to survive. They live exposed, but invisible.
Europe is considered a well developed continent, with levels of social and economic success envied by the rest of the world.
But, this vision is partial and even cynical: poverty and misery are kept cornered to protect this image shown to the world.
What would happen if the truth was told?
What would happen if that parallel reality, the one administrations and the citizens themselves try to keep hidden, was shown?
Today, in the old continent, there are about 30 million people who do not have decent housing, and Spain is no exception. After the crisis of 2008, the social and economic gap grew. It is estimated that three million people live in precarious conditions or under the poverty line.
Barcelona meanwhile, a fashionable city with 1.6 million inhabitants, which has been positioned among the 50 most important worldwide for its tourist attraction, economic value and artistic circuit, also has hidden (at first sight) this dark side.
This city, which was listed as the fourth “most powerful” European city in 2008 and in 2009 as one of the best “brand” cities in the world has more than 12 thousand cases of people without a decent home, of which more than 3 thousand do not have even a roof, and live directly in the street, according to data of the Agency of the habitat of Catalonia.
This 4th world, hidden but real, is a sea of people exposed to all kinds of conditions: cold, hunger, rain, drugs, alcohol, social kitchens, clashes and fights, robberies; are some of the factors that we find when we go through their stories.
And although not everything is negative; there are stories of survival, of generosity and friendship, of overcoming and fighting; there are many who wish to “get out” of the streets. According to the survey carried out in Catalonia, the majority of the cases of homeless people are single men (54.8%) between 35 and 64 years old (59.5%).
Like Ramon, a Spaniard of 62 who circled the world while working as a sailor. Today he lives in the streets of Barcelona and says that in his free time
“As we have nothing to do and nothing to occupy the time, he drinks.”
For showering, he goes to the Fundació Arrels, but as they allude that in Galicia has family and money, many times they do not allow it.
“It can not be possible to exclude people from the same social services,” he denounces and adds: “If I live on the street, how the hell am I not going to be able to? We should shower at least once a day. Street people are exposed to all kind of illness.
The amount of social assistance services differs in each area or province, in many small municipalities they do not have social services to give aid to all and must deny access to many or refer them to other sites.
Jackie is 56 years old and came to Barcelona in 2009 after living more than 20 years in Valencia. He has not found a job since. “I like to stay on the sidelines, I do not like problems,” he says “you see how I am: I can have a drink like now, for the cold and nothing else. I do not have to get drunk like the rest.”
At the social dinners the feeling is tense. Most people has nothing else to lose.
But, Jackie can not return to Brazil because his passport and papers were stolen. He only needs the 160 euros to get the documents. “Let’s see if anyone can give them to me for Christmas,” he says, laughing hopefully.
The most serious problem “is not the abuse by the Mossos d’Escuadra,” says Marcos, a Spaniard of 42, but “the same street people who steal and kill between each other.”
He was born in El Raval, Barcelona, and at eight he began to work in construction. “I remember when there was respect for children and older people, those grandmothers or mothers who are robbed today, could be those of a friend,” he says.
Four years ago he began to “shoot” heroin because he suffers from chronic pain in the legs as a result from working since such an early age.
“It was one of those days when I got 45 euros in an hour. I was with a friend, I turned around and said: I want to shoot myself. I felt the pain fade away,” he recalls.
Meanwhile, the city kept moving forward at its fast pace.
“People do not look at us or do the typical gesture by raising their shoulders as if to say: “I’m sorry”,” he describes.
The feeling of being insignificant, transparent is greater than any weather factor. “We talked a lot about suicide,” he confesses, “but, at the end, we are the first ones who want to live.”
Not all cases are the same. Some earn income, but their personal circumstances lead them to live this way.
“I have worked since I was 14 and now I receive 500 euros of retirement,” explains Mariano, a 73-year-old Spaniard who is a compulsive gambler.
“We all have at least one vice. Some drink, others are junkies, mine is gambling,” he says. All his life lived in El Prat de Llobregat, but “now there is nothing to do”. He has his possessions in a warehouse and pays every month to store them. He explains that he has a room but there he cannot do what he wants as the owner doesn’t let him.
“We come from different places and each one has its own problems”.
“Many made mistakes and now they are paying them, others have simply got used living like this. But, I do not think anyone would prefer to live on the street, “he concludes.
Ask for money, food, help. Beg, take cover in an alcohol jacket. Sleeping sheltered in the entrance of a bank, in a square, under the rain of April or the heat of the sun in August. Feeling the pass of time with the certainty that the next hour will be the same, but with the uncertainty of not knowing what tomorrow will bring.
While the rest of the people go ahead, with blinders for life, as if by not seeing them cease to exist. But these thousands of people without work, who roam and live in the streets, are part of the same system that instead of re-inserting them into the productive chain, keeps them like this: exposed.
For all of us to see, but choose to look the other way.