The number of people seeking help to feed themselves has increased by up to 30% in Portugal since 2008, when the country’s economic situation began to worsen, according to the vice-president of homeless charity Centro de Apoio aos Sem-Abrigo (CASA).<br>Aside from “the traditional homeless people who sleep on the streets” not having increased, the association has noticed “a big increase poor families and individuals,” Nuno Jardim told Lusa News Agency.
“The majority are people who are alone, have lost their jobs, have financial difficulties and ask for help to feed themselves,” he said, adding that “the concept of homelessness, in the national plan, includes these situations.”
Although gaining accurate figures for homeless people is difficult, because “obtaining information is complicated as they often move from place to place,” Nuno Jardim said that from observation, the number people asking for meals “has increased by around 20 to 30%” since 2008.
“We have noticed this increase in difficulties since 2008,” he said, adding that this year more people have appeared, but that is the result of previous years.”
According to Mr. Jardim, the region most affected is the Algarve, because “it is already a poor region,” with “Faro district” registering the most growth of these situations.
The main reason that leads to people asking for meals from charities is unemployment, but not always.
“There are people who have jobs and a roof over their heads, but the money they earn all goes for the house or the room [they rent] and they are left without money for anything else,” he said.
“Then there are also issues where the family structure falls apart and some people can’t handle it and go and live on the street,” he added.
Henrique Pinto, President of homeless charity Cais told Lusa News Agency that he also doesn’t know the exact number of homeless people in Portugal, because “often a count is made based on hostels, rooms paid for by social security or the Santa Casa da Misericórdia, but there is a large number of people who live in abandoned or degraded houses and people who live on the streets.”
He added that the media have “pointed to 3,000 in Lisbon and around 2,000 in Oporto, but there are no updated or meticulous records.”
Around 1,000 people have however been taken off the streets of Oporto in the last two years as part of a national strategy to support the homeless.
Despite this, Mr. Pinto has noticed an increase in the number of poor people.
“The middle class has suffered the most. Those who already lived on the streets, now have one less soup, but they were already in a situation of severe poverty. Now, those who have lost their jobs, and have children and a home to pay for cannot survive.”
Family problems are also cited by Isabel Teixeira, from the Boa Vontade charity in Oporto, for aggravating poverty.
“One of the main reasons is family problems, divorce, the death of parents, family breakups,” she said, adding that people then don’t have fixed or regular income, many have odd jobs, help to park cars or live off pensions or benefits.
Although no figures are as yet available for 2011, the International Medical Assistance (AMI) said that 12,383 people were in situations of poverty in Portugal in 2010, an increase of 32% compared to the previous year.
Of these, 1,821 people were homeless, 13% more than in 2009.
According to AMI, three out of four homeless people in Portugal are men aged between 40 and 59, while nine out of 10 are unemployed.
The statistics also show that around seven percent of homeless in the country are illiterate, a third only have primary school education and half have no more than Portugal’s 9th year of secondary school, while almost three quarters of homeless people have no professional training.
The majority (70%) of homeless people are Portuguese, followed by citizens from African Portuguese speaking countries then Eastern Europe.
AMI’s reports show that the main reasons for poverty among these people is unemployment, family problems and physical illnesses.
Figures also show that the number of women being homeless has also increased as of the more than 700 homeless people who asked for help, 29 were women, which represented a four percent increase compared to the previous year.
The homeless population is divided according to the European Federation of National Organisations that Work with the Homeless (FEANTSA), into four groups; homeless (living on the streets), without a home (living in temporary accommodation), precarious habitation (have been evicted) and inadequate housing (living in barrack or hut like constructions).