Four people die in a fire in an occupied premises in Barcelona’s Plaza Tetuan, reported EL PERIÓDICO last Tuesday. Two were minors. A three-year-old boy and his four-month-old sister. They lived deprived of the most basic rights, as well as another 209 boys and girls and 656 adults who live poorly in warehouses or slums in the Catalan capital. Death is the hardest face of the synogarismo, a process of violation of rights that begins when a person is deprived of their home and continues with other rights such as access to health, work, physical integrity or living in society.
On November 14 it was also reported, from these pages, that two homeless people they had been miraculously saved in an arson attack in their store. It is difficult to understand what moves a person to burn someone they do not know alive, but for people who sleep on the street it is a constant threat. During the confinement, four were killed in their sleep and we all remember the images of three young men setting fire to Rosario Endrinal at an ATM.
Death at the hands of a stranger or due to extremely precarious conditions is a constant risk for homeless people, to which a part of society not only takes responsibility for their situation, but also attacks. 47% of people who sleep on the street admit to having suffered hate crimes, such as name calling or hitting, that 85% do not report for fear of reprisals or due to the barriers of a system that does not provide answers.
In his book ‘Aporophobia, the rejection of the poor’, Adela Cortina, notes the danger of seeing these people as responsible for their situation and warns about the need to address public policies that contemplate not only prevention and rescue but also protection against hatred. We must combat, he tells us, the discourses that stigmatize a group that is victim of structural processes for which we are responsible as a society. This week we have seen how, as a result of the tragedy of Tetuan Square, some focused on the dangers of occupation and not on the consequences of homelessness.
Despite the fact that the number of homeless people has doubled in the last decade, Catalonia has done very little to tackle this problem. There is no census or resource map. Homelessness is still invisible in budgets and in the public policies of the Generalitat, which, as with other social problems, has delegated its responsibility to private entities and town councils, mainly in that of Barcelona, which dedicates 35 million euros a year to serve these people. For just two years the Generalitat has contributed 100,000 euros to these programs, but it still does not invest in the most important thing that is within its competence: active public housing and accompanying policies.
In the budgets that have entered the Parliament, it is impossible to find a specific item to combat homelessness, which remains so invisible that the word does not even appear in the 100-page document that they have prepared to explain them.
Catalonia needs specific public policies that address homelessness, but also a law that comprehensively addresses a phenomenon that has been on the waiting list for too long and that se has worsened with the social and economic emergency derived from covid-19. The pandemic has not only made the survival of these people more difficult, it has caused others who were on the edge to end up on the street and new profiles to be added, such as the youths. FACIAM recently warned that 30% of the people served are already an average of 21 years old.
We need a true system of care and protection against a phenomenon that, as the journalist and activist recalled a few days ago Emmanuel Onapa in ‘Tribune’ magazine, it is not inevitable, it is a political option. We are in time to turn the fight against homelessness, the most extreme form of poverty and social exclusion, into a first order priority. These budgets are the time to start work.