An organized protest will take place today near the Chacarita Cemetery. Fed up of the alleged abuse of the Metropolitan Police, the homeless people who live near the cemetery unite to “escape the confinement of poverty”.
The demonstration has been organized by the Buenos Aires NGO “Horizonte de Libertad“, which was set up about three years ago to help homeless people get the freedom and rights that they deserve. Facundo, one of the founders, explains the meaning behind the name: “To be poor is to be trapped; if you are poor you have no freedom.”
Along with other homeless people such as Fernando, who is unfortunately still living on the streets with his family, Facundo established “Horizonte de Libertad” in order to help people to protect themselves, fight for their rights, and try and improve their situation.
Facundo wants to change people’s opinion of homelessness. Although it is often considered a personal problem – a consequence of laziness, madness or stupidity – most of the people who live on the streets actually do work very hard. Fernando and his family have been working as cartoneros for over eight years. These unemployed people keep themselves afloat by going through rubbish bins to find recyclable products which they can sell for a small profit.
The Chacarita “parador” currently consists of around 15 homeless people. This little community works hard to improve their circumstances; everyone has their own role. Some go out in the morning to collect cardboard boxes, some search for food and ask for bread, while others stay behind to cook and look after the children. The kids are the biggest concern in the parador. Judging the commune “unsafe”, the Social Services once took Fernando’s children away from him and his partner for over 50 days. Afterwards, they all went to live in a family facility, but this dirty “prison block” was even less safe than the streets, and so they left shortly afterwards.
Although none of the people living on the streets near Chacarita are happy with their circumstances, things have become a lot worse since the Metropolitan Police came into the area. The city should be trying to help the homeless; however, the police have really unsettled the lives of these cartoneros. They are constantly prowling the area, moving them along every morning, threatening them and stopping them from working.
Occasionally, the police are even aggressive to these helpless homeless people. During a thunderstorm on the 5th January, the cartoneros covered their belongings with nylon sheets and ran inside to hide from the rain. After the storm had passed, they went back outside to discover that the police had completely ransacked their things. They had turned everything over, and they’d taken clothes, food and even personal belongings such as ID. The Police claimed that they had been ordered to “clean up”, but other homeless people who witnessed the violence explained that the Police simply took all the belongings away in a rubbish lorry.
This helps nothing. It is also a crime itself: Law 3706 states that one cannot repress or expel homeless people from the street. However, these laws are worthless without the funds required to help the homeless find accommodation.
Organizations like “Horizonte de Libertad” and “Proyecto 7” want to demonstrate that the government needs to give homeless people resources if they want to get them off the streets. Taking away their belongings will not get them anywhere, and neither will offering them accommodation for a few nights. What they really need is a sort of inn or commune a kind of base where they can keep their belongings and do their work without the government stealing their things. Some establishments of this kind already exist, but they are not really effective. Fernando and his partner were moved to a family facility at one point, but it was like a dirty prison block where people took drugs in the bathrooms, and they did not feel safe living there with their children.
The association “Medicos del Mundo” says that there are 18,000 homeless people living in Buenos Aires. Clearly the government needs to wake up to the gravity of the issue and provide more funds for helping to get homeless people off the streets.