How many are homeless in Barcelona?
Volunteers tallied the number at 956, with 2,099 sleeping in centers, in an action to raise public awareness about the issue
It’s hard, perhaps impossible, to solve an issue until it’s properly addressed, and one of the subjects least talked about is often homelessness. To change this, almost a thousand volunteers filled the streets of Barcelona to quantify how many sleep on the street in the city. And according to the numbers, there are 3,055 homeless in total in the Catalan capital: 956 'sleeping rough,' meaning on the street, and 2,099 housed in centers.
Five were in charge of canvasing Sarrià, one of Barcelona's most well-off neighborhoods: Rita, Rosa, Antoni, Rafa, and Roger. They, like the 925 others who decided to help, were organized into 287 groups to comb through the streets of the Catalan capital, in the early hours of May 17.
"The objective of the tally is to get a fixed photo of what's happening in the city Barcelona and how many people sleep on the street tonight, as well as to raise public awareness of this situation, which often suffers from great invisibility or lack of knowledge of how this happens,” explained Maite Mauricio, representative of XAPSLL, a network set up to aid the homeless in Barcelona. “That’s why we always say it’s a fine line,” warns Mauricio. “We’re all vulnerable; we can all end up in this situation.”
“We’re all vulnerable; we can all end up in this situation”
Maite Mauricio ·XAPSLL representative
Made up of 38 entities and the Barcelona City Council, XAPSLL is the organization behind the tally. And those who stepped forward to walk the streets on Thursday morning are diverse: there are professionals from the field of social work, a neighbor from the area, and people who have slept on the streets themselves at certain points in their life. Regards these last individuals, “their knowledge is essential for the tally,” explained Roger Fe, a social educator from the welcome center Centre d’Accollida Assís. The task undertaken lasted about two hours and included exhaustive preparation.
The first person the five volunteers in Sarrià find is a man sleeping in an ATM space. In an application, they enter information such as his gender, whether he is alone or whether he has an animal with him, the location he chose for shelter. They do so discreetly, as to not invade his personal space: the street has become his home, and encroaching on that would mean disturbing his privacy.
“Today is not for speaking, but for counting,” XAPSLL organizers specified, before the tally started. As Roger Fe added, “sometimes, we’re anxious to help, but these are actually very long and complex processes that have to be carried out by professionals.” Some streets up, parked where it almost can’t be seen, the five volunteers find a high-end car with an old license plate. On a hunch, two of the volunteers decide to check: as they suspected, in the backseat, someone is sleeping.
“Not only is it necessary to focus on the people who sleep on the street, but also, on the structural factors that lead to homelessness,” explains Mauricio, warning of the “serious problem of residential exclusion” seen in Barcelona. The XAPSLL representative further calls for “cooperation of all levels of administration” in solving the problem, and that this commitment is translated into strategy – along with a designated budget. Even more, insists Mauricio, a “national pact” is needed to guarantee the right to housing.
This is the third annual tally carried out in Barcelona, although this initiative began a decade ago. Last year, 1,026 people were sleeping on the street in the Catalan capital at the time of the tally, while 2,006 spent the night in XAPSLL centers; in total, there were 3,032 homeless in the city. In 2016, 2,847 were counted in total (940 sleeping rough, on the street, and 1,907 in centers of the network); in 2015, the number of those on the street was 892.