Almost 70% of people who live on the street in Barcelona don’t have hope of moving into an accommodation anytime soon and four out of every ten don’t have anyone to count on. The more time someone spends living on the street, the worse their situation, and possibilities of leaving it, become. Only 46% of people who live on the street say they have been attended to by social services or by a social entity in the last six months and 19% say that the last place in which they slept was an institutional resource. We elaborate more on this topic in the report Living on the street in Barcelona.
The night of June 15th, we went out on the streets of Barcelona to survey the homeless community. We located a total of 1,231 people and interviewed 354 of them. Thanks to their responses, we have been able to deepen our understanding and now recognize what we have learned in the fourth edition of our report Living on the street in Barcelona. X-ray of a homeless city.
The data that was derived from the survey tells us that, if a response is not quick and adapted to the needs of each person, a person’s situation deteriorates rapidly and it becomes difficult for them to get better and leave life on the street. The lack of resources, the saturation of social services and the approach based on a temporary solution perpetuates the situation, which becomes chronic.
On average, the people we interviewed had lived on the street for four years and four months; this is a higher average than that predating the pandemic, when the average was three years and five months. The majority of those surveyed, almost 70%, had spent more than six months living on the street. More than 70% had been homeless only in the city of Barcelona.
For the first time, we asked people who live on the street what their last accommodation was and why they had lost it. 21% of those surveyed said that their last home had been a rental, while 5% said that it had been an owned property; this shows that there are people who had a relatively secure place before becoming homeless. Two out of every 10 people we interviewed (19%) had been in an institutional service before having to sleep on the street. For the majority of people (12%), the last accommodation had been a shelter, but we also found people who had come from prisons, housing managed by social services or social entities, residencies and social-health centers, and protection centers for children and youth.
The temporary nature of the resources or alternatives that are available to homeless people is another constant of their circumstance. A third of the people we interviewed had lived on the street on different occasions and another third explained to us that in the six months prior to the survey, they had slept under cover for some night(s). At least 44% of those surveyed said that their last accommodation was temporary or unstable, like shelters, hostels, lodges, guest houses or institutions. “The fact that there are people who have lived on the street on various occasions does not only show the deficiencies of the social protection system and temporary resources; it also explains that people try, against all odds, to leave their situation on the street,” states Marta Maynou, responsible for the reception team at Arrels.
The loss of a job, problems in a family or separation from a partner, problems related to one’s housing or the act of migrating from one place to another are the main reasons for the loss of housing according to those surveyed. It’s important to note that 5% said they had never lived in stable housing.
Without hope of living in a home or being able to confide in anyone
Besides asking about the last accommodation and the reasons for its loss, the survey we completed in June also included, for the first time, questions about the expectations people had for the future and the possibilities they had to access a place to sleep or live.
Almost 70% of those surveyed (68%) did not expect to find housing or an accommodation soon, while 20% said they did. More specifically, 5% explained that they were on the waiting list to access a shelter, 4% hoped to access an apartment from an entity or social service and another 4% could pay for a room themselves or with the help of friends.
“There are many people who don’t have expectations, who aren’t waiting for anything. There is little hope for homeless people of accessing a resource and one of the reasons why is that many people are left out because they don’t meet the minimum requirements…it is twice the punishment, because they don’t have a house and it’s very complicated to access a center,” explains the director of Arrels, Ferran Busquets.
With this in mind, we also asked people if, in their day-to-day life, they have someone they can rely on. Four out of every ten people considered themselves to be alone. This was the case for 39% of people born in Spain, 36% of people born in other EU countries, and 47% of people from non-EU countries. If we focus on age, 47% of people under 25 said that they don’t have anyone to rely on.
On the other side, 11% of those interviewed said they could rely on professionals from social services or other social entities, 8% relied on neighbors and 5% explained that they could rely on workers in businesses and shops in their neighborhood.
An Insufficient and Late Response
Since 2016, the first year we conducted this survey, we have always included the question of whether people receive social care or not, considering that from both social services and social entities. The data we received was always similar, with some fluctuations, but the last survey that we conducted last year reported the highest level of inattentiveness we had ever seen. In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, 41% of people explained that they had received social care (public and private) in the six months prior to the survey. Last year, this percentage reached 47%.
Only one of every three people said they had accessed social care from social services in the six months prior to the survey. In the majority of cases (93%), this care came from social services in Barcelona; only 3% of cases had accessed social services in other Catalan municipalities.
According to Marta Maynou, responsible for the reception team at Arrels, “we are too late. Both in Barcelona and the rest of Catalunya, there are no resources that assure a person will not spend a second night outdoors.” “People are taking longer and longer to be cared for and, consequently, every time there are more people in a worse situation. The situation is more severe every time,” she added.
If we focus on those who are more neglected, we see that only one in every four people under 25 say they have accessed social services in the six months prior to the survey. As people spend more time living on the street, the more responses we receive that indicate they have received some type of social care, considering that of both social services and social entities. This means that, in the majority of cases, social care arrives when a person has already been living on the street and that the protection system has cracks. According to survey data, less than 30% of people who had lived on the street for up to six months had received care by social services; of all of them, the majority (77%) had received social care when they were already living on the street.
Who lives on the street in Barcelona?
The night of June 15th, we detected at least 1,231 people living on the streets of Barcelona. 28% of these people were in the Ciutat Vella district, 24% were sleeping on the streets of El Eixample, 15% resided in Sants-Monjuïc, and 13% were in San Martí.
Through the questions of the survey, we also found that, of those surveyed …
–90% are men, 8% are women, 0.3% are trans women and 0.3% are non-binary. 38% of the women were born in Barcelona, while the women born outside of Barcelona have been living in the city for an average of 15 and a half years.
–The average age is 44 years old. The younger people surveyed were born in countries outside of Spain, both inside and outside of the EU. All of the older people were born in Spain, with the majority being born in Catalonia.
–70% of the people are migrants. Every year we note that migrants from other countries are overrepresented among all people who live on the street in Barcelona; to compare, migrants make up 29% of the city as a whole, according to the municipal census. Being a migrant is considered a risk factor. On average, the people who we interview have been living in Barcelona for a decade and mainly came to the city to look for work; 74% of the migrants living on the street have experienced homelessness only in Barcelona.
–One out of every five people who live on the street don’t know how to read or write or have not finished any level of education. 40% of those born in Spain have studies equivalent to a ESO, while migrants may have either a lower or higher level of education.
–69% of people don’t have income. Only 26% of people who live on the street have regular incomes such as social benefits, pensions, or the results of irregular or contracted work; this income is insufficient to cover basic necessities. Only 6% of migrants access social benefits; for people with an irregular administrative status, it’s very difficult to access basic documentation and, consequently, a job or pension.
–There are only three very basic actions that, at a minimum, half of people think that they can carry out with ease: go to the bathroom, feed themselves and access hygienic services some day of the week. On the contrary, those surveyed explain that it’s especially difficult to get money, eat hot meals, carry out the management or procedure of documentation and have a covered place where they can rest during the day.
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