José Ornelas runs the Association for the Study and the Psycho-Social Integration that attends people with mental illnesses in Portugal. One of his projects is Casas Primeiro, which offers homeless people with mental illnesses the opportunity to move from the streets into permanent apartments. Ornelas wonders why this doesn’t happen in Barcelona.
How did Casas Primeiro begin?
We acknowledge that some people admitted into psychiatric hospitals, had a better integration when they were offered an apartment. After knowing of the existence of a similar project in New York involving homeless people, we were really glad. We explained it to the Ministry of Social Welfare -framing it inside the program against poverty of the European Union-, and the Government began to finance the project.
What sort of people it addresses to?
The model Housing First is addressed, in general, to the people living on the streets for a long time and who may have mental illnesses or addictions problems. Casas Primeiro focuses on homeless people with mental illnesses. We are now creating a national network to act in cities such as Porto, Aveiro, Coimbra, Faro, etc…
How does the person react when you offer them to go to a permanent flat?
As if they were in a dream. They are people living on the streets for years, who have been in different shelters. It’s different to offer a shelter than a flat, in a flat the person can choose the neighbourhood where to live at. We have the case of a lady who lived on the streets for 20 years. We visited her many times and offered a flat. She wanted for us to contact her daughter to ask about her opinion. We didn’t know that she had a daughter! We finally found her and now she is happily living at her flat.
Which are the conditions of Casas Primeiro?
One of them is to accept a weekly visit of the professional team; another is not having troubles with neighbours.
Housing First’s model bets for the person to invest 30% of his/her income in flat expenses. This circumstance is not a condition to us, as such. We work with the person, get access to a social benefit or any other income, and after that, we ask for that percentage.
How does this improve people’s lives?
85% do not return to the streets. From all the people living at flats, the 99% reduced their visit to ER’s. Police conflicts have been also reduced and the community integration has improved. This improves their self-esteem and their health.
What difficulties have you encountered to start the project?
The biggest difficulty has been finding the financial support that provides sustainability. We have negotiated with town halls and with the Portuguese Government, to help us to pay our professional team. Each professional accompanies 10 people who come into flats, carry out procedures, seek support in the community, financial resources for people, etc…
Would it be possible to implement Housing First’s model in Barcelona?
Barcelona is a touristic city where you see homeless people in Les Rambles, La Sagrada Familia, el Parc Güell, la Barceloneta, etc… Shelters are not the solution because they don’t adapt to the person needs, neither are they re-led rooms, because in many cases one cannot cook or get into the bathroom. Housing First is the only way to end homelessness and on the UE, Canada, or Portugal it’s being proved.
Politicians shouldn’t be afraid. Barcelona should be one of the first European cities in eradicate Homelessness.
*** The graphic that illustrates this article shows comparative figures of how much does it cost to attend a homeless person in New York. Graphic has been designed by Pathways to Housing, an American entity that promotes the housing first model 20 years ago.