Homeless in Spain: They force you to the street then ban you from it

By Pablo Sebastián Segura

Zaragoza, Spain, Apr 18 (efe-epa).- For the thousands of people sleeping rough in Spain, the coronavirus pandemic throws up a key question, how is it possible to be homeless and not be on the street at the same time?

“It’s impossible,” Óskar Agreda tells Efe.

Agreda has been homeless for the last five years, a situation he found himself as a result of the last financial crisis.

He is currently staying in an abandoned factory in the city of Zaragoza, northeast Spain.

“Everybody talks about the most vulnerable people,” he says, adding that there was no help for those living without any form of income or a place to stay.

“This is worse than the last crisis,” he says. “Before, you could at least make a living.”

Nowadays everything is closed down and the vast majority of people in his situation are unable to order things online.

He is surviving thanks to the help of food banks set up to provide help during the crisis. Every morning he has the option of heading to the local shelter for breakfast and a nearby canteen for lunch.

According to various studies, there are between 30,000 and 40,00 homeless people in Spain.

The lockdown affects them, too, as they are banned from activities that could otherwise generate a small income — begging, collecting scrap metal, searching for food in bins.

Agreda could make between 60-70 euros a week with odd jobs such as helping with removals or clearing debris.

“I’m only asking what’s in the Spanish Constitution: the right to a dignified home, dignified work and a dignified life,” he says.

Showing photos of politicians he has met over the years, like Pablo Echenique, whose left-wing Podemos party is now in the coalition government and the former Mayor of Zaragoza Luisa Broto, Agreda says he was evicted from his spot in April last year and the new owner of the building where he is living illegally as warned he would do the same.

He currently shares his space with another person who was unsuccessful in their attempts to secure a place in the city shelter when it was expanded by authorities to offer accommodation during the crisis.

The accommodation was full just a few days after it opened and now Zaragoza city officials are mulling a third hostel in collaboration with the military emergency units (UME), although no decision has been made as to how to get it underway.

Agreda says many people, including some in worse situations than himself, have been unable to secure a spot in the shelters. He prefers not to get accommodation there, labeling them “human farms” with little privacy.

He said he has requested aid for his situation and in 2016 even launched a lawsuit but it was archived.

In 2016, Agreda joined other activists in a campaign called “Zaragoza under the rug” which sought to raise awareness for the city’s homeless population.

Nowadays, he laments the fact he has to break quarantine rules.

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