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ARGENTINA | 25-10-2019 15:24

Streets of Buenos Aires the last refuge of those hit hardest by crisis

Homelessness has increased markedly during Argentina's worst economic crisis since 2001 and the capital's growing population of street-dwellers are finding it increasingly difficult to get by.

The streets of Buenos Aires, Argentina's capital, are a window into the country's economic crisis, the worst since 2001.

In hospitals, in squares, in train stations, the numbers of people who, between blankets and cartons, make the streets their last refuge is multiplying.

Argentina has been experiencing a serious economic crisis since 2018, with high inflation (37.7 percent between January and September alone) and rising unemployment (10.6 percent) and poverty (35.4 percent, with 7.7 percent living in extreme poverty.

In July, at the beginning of Winter in the region, there were 1,146 people living on the streets of Buenos Aires, according to statistics collated by the City government.

'However, a survey by local social organisations reported there were in fact 7,251 homeless people, 52 percent of which said they were living on the street for the first time.

'I eat what people give me'

Soledad Sánchez, 36, has seven children between 2 and 19 years old, and an infant grandchild. She lives on the street within a few metres of the famous Teatro Colón, but far from its luxuries. She spends her days sitting at the door of a supermarket, waiting for someone to give her something to eat, and spends her nights in an ATM cubicle.

"I eat what people give me. If not, I don't eat," she says.

As a child, she lived on the street with her mother, but until February 2018, with the earnings of her recycler husband, in addition to government help, they paid a hotel to spend the nights. When they lost that subsidy, her husband committed suicide.

"He was killed by the situation we were living. They threatened us that if we did not leave [the hotel] they would take away our kids and on Friday at 3pm in the afternoon, he shot himself," she recalls.

Sánchez was left widowed and homeless.

"Before I had a place to live, to have my children sleep, I could bathe them, feed them, everything. Now it is not life," she says, hugging her six-year-old daughter, whom she took out of school because her supplies were stolen, while another, 15 and disabled, looks at her from the corner.

The rest of their children, she clarifies proudly, are in school: "I send them to school so that tomorrow they are something, not like me."

Getting out of this situation is an unattainable longing for now.

"With seven boys, it costs us 12,000 pesos [US$200] to rent, and they don't accept you anywhere," she says.

'I was left with nothing'

José Rivero, 37, arrived in Buenos Aires four years ago from the province of Salta, in the north of the country. Although he did not find formal employment, he says he always managed to "invent work where it was not."

His last job was on a stand selling used objects in a fair. But three months ago, he lost his spot and with it, the possibility to continue renting. Today he spends his days around a public hospital and at night he sleeps in a state shelter.

"I was left with nothing," he laments.

To earn some money, he helps two women selling coffee and sandwiches in their makeshift stalls at the hospital door. "I live day by day, I earn 200 pesos [US$3] daily, but with how expensive everything is, what do I do with that?" he says.

Life on the street makes everything harder. "Everywhere they tell me that they are going to call me [for work] but they never do," he says, worried because his mobile phone was recently stolen.

"On the street you feel a lot of desolation," he reflects.

José doesn't lose the hope of getting a job.

"I came from Salta hoping to get ahead and, well, I still won't give up."

'You have to accept reality'

After more than a decade on the street, Francisco Omar Niubó, 60, does not dream of leaving the gallery of the hospital where he lives.

"You have to accept this damned reality and not aspire to what you know you won’t achieve," he says.

Fifteen years ago, he began to suffer from unemployment. The money he received as a painter was no longer enough for him to pay rent.

Today, he says, the situation is more difficult than ever.

During the day, he goes through the city with a wooden briefcase loaded with brushes and paint jars, hoping someone will commission him to decorate a shop window or make a sign.

"Every time you work less and every time you earn less," he says.

"Before, five years ago, in the different neighbourhoods I went to, if they didn't give you a coffee, they treated you to a soda, a beer, a sandwich... Today they don't have anything to eat themselves, much less to offer me a little changuita [informal work]. We have gotten a lot worse."

Niubó lives day by day: "Before, one said 'God will say', but it seems that He is on a vacation, because we are starving badly."

– AFP

by Nadia Nasanovsky, AFP

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