“Where would you go if you were homeless tonight?”
It was 23.10 on Monday night in Barcelona. The drumming sound of rain on our terrace and the strange rattling as the wind ripped our awning nearly drowned out my question. Hoping I wouldn´t wake our 8-month-old sleeping baby in the cot on my left, I repeated the question in a louder whisper.
My boyfriend sighed. My nightly ritual of incessant questioning late into the night was not his favourite feature of our bedtime routine. It appeared to pique his interest more than my attempt the previous night to pretend to have travelled back from the future (we had just watched “12 Monkeys”).
We discussed it even later into the night. He thought the safest thing would be to integrate with the homeless community and get advice on the best areas of the city to stay. I at first thought of making a hut in the forest outside Barcelona, then my imagination ran riot with the thought of homicidal maniacs roaming through the woods, and I settled on sleeping outside a 24-hour supermarket on a busy street for safety through exposure.
Where would you go if you were homeless?
Cafes and restaurants close at night (and require paying customers). Train stations and bus depots are a possibility, though staff may stop you sleeping there. Churches lock their doors. Police will move you on from benches and doorways.
In order to make money, you need money. It´s hard enough getting a job in Barcelona as it is, minimum requirements are generally qualifications, experience and cover letters. If you don´t have a fixed address, CV, you haven´t worked for years and you have no transport for the interview (let alone a suit to fit in among the other candidates) you don´t have a hope.
No permanent address, so you have to carry your belongings wherever you go. No access to healthcare. Agonizing pain in your tooth? Forget about paracetamol let alone a dentist. The streets are lonely, cold and dangerous. In Barcelona, public toilets are few and far between, and homeless women have to deal with periods every month. Homeless people are trapped in a cycle of violence, deprivation and abuse and are often treated with disdain and contempt.
Our flat is small, and our bank accounts are moth-eaten. But we had pigged out on ravioli pasta, binged on Netflix on our squishy sofa and had taken deliciously hot showers. And we lay in our warm bed, listening to the rain lash the roof, and felt equally comfortable and guilty.
The next day we decided to do what we call a “homeless run”. We go to the supermarket, buy enough food to feed 10-20 people and walk around Barcelona giving out the packets. Not a huge deal, nothing to write home about, but I just wanted to tell you how easy and cheap it is!
16.00 – 16.30 LIDL SUPERMAKET, Carrer de Pujades. In the cheap and cheerful German supermarket, we bought:
10 x ham and cheese pastries
10 x spinach pastries
10 x caramel chocolate bars
10 x biscuit packets
10 x oranges
10 x boxes of juice
We packed one of each item into separate brown paper bags.
16.35 – 16.45 CHINESE SHOP Carrer de Pujades
Here we bought ten pairs of thick black gloves. Price? 10 euros.
16.45 – 19. Over the next couple of hours we walked slowly though the centre of Barcelona. From Arc de Trionf, through Born, up Carrer Princesa through Gotico, up the Ramblas and back home via Urquinaona.
On the way we handed out the packets to the many homeless people we found on the route.
It took us a short evening, and it cost us 30 euros. The food alone was 20. For 20 euros in Barcelona you could buy:
2 x entry to Opium nightclub
2 x meal deal at most restaurants around the city
2 x beer at a restaurant on Las Ramblas (I won´t name and shame)
A meal for TEN people!
It really was so easy, and while it was a drop in the ocean of tackling the issue of homelessness in Barcelona, it still felt good to do something.
We are going to do a homeless run every week, If you live in Barcelona or want to contribute towards those warm suppers and gloves (next week hats, then socks), hit me up! We would love help of any kind.