Raval's beloved Gimnàs Social Sant Pau community center faces eviction on April 30
Low-budget Barcelona gym provides vulnerable with a place to eat and shower but owner wants to build luxury apartments
This is a developing story. You can find our most recent article on the issue here.
Crises like the one the Gimnàs Social Sant Pau community center is facing right now are not unheard of in Barcelona's Raval, a historically low-income but increasingly gentrified neighborhood in the city center, as property owners gradually revamp their holdings and force long-term tenants out.
But the Gimnàs Social Sant Pau cooperative, a low-budget gym that also provides the city's most vulnerable with a place to eat and shower in addition to a clean change of clothes, still has two days to avoid the fate many other Ciutat Vella old-timers have succumbed to.
Over 2,500 mainly homeless people have benefited from Gimnàs Social Sant Pau's services throughout the pandemic in the form of 55,000 showers and 40,000 meals. "Shutting down could be a lethal psychological blow for them," warns Santi González, one of the gym's workers.
Encesa Viñas, the family that owns the building, wants to demolish it in order to build a luxury high-rise apartment building. After steering clear of an eviction in late January, April 30 was set as the deadline for an agreement between both parties that is yet to materialize despite a recent €9.5 million city council bid to buy the gym—as of yet, Encesa Viñas will not accept anything under €14 million. Council sources claim that talks will take place "until the very last minute."
With their future hanging by a thread and still inconclusive city hall-led negotiations, not only do members of the Gimnàs Social Sant Pau cooperative believe mayor Ada Colau—who has ties to anti-eviction group PAH from her years as a housing activist prior to entering politics—should become personally involved, but they are also prepared to take the council to court for reactivating the property owner's building permit.
In addition to filing a complaint against the council, the cooperative has also informed both the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Barcelona Ombudsman of the ongoing situation.
"We only have 36 hours left," said Ernest Morera, one of the cooperative’s members, arguing that buying the building should be "easier than ever" for the council since the opposition views this move favorably. "The mayor should be at the helm of these talks, sit down with the family, and reach an agreement."
Opposition criticizes council's handling of negotiations
"It is unacceptable that there is still an eviction scheduled for Friday," said Esquerra Republicana councilman Ernest Maragall, who on Wednesday, alongside JxCat councilwoman Elsa Artadi and Morera, once again urged Colau to prevent it from taking place.
Like Maragall, Artadi said the eviction notice was "incomprehensible" and accused the council of "negligence."
Meanwhile, far-left CUP and the Homeless Union called on the Catalan government to begin to take urgent action to protect the community center by expropriating the building. According to Lluís Solanés, the union's spokesperson, both the council and the government need to step in to "eradicate homelessness."
"We've already met with the city hall," said Solanés. "Now it's the government's turn. We need this to be resolved."
Over 80 years serving the neighborhood
The Gimnàs Social Sant Pau has long served the people of the Raval, or what was once known as the 'Barri Xino', tracing its origins back to the Banys Populars bathhouse that opened on Ronda Sant Pau in 1940 right after the Spanish Civil War.
Home to the Catalan capital's first chlorinated swimming pool, many of the neighborhood's marginalized residents would bathe there for a peseta long before showers became widely available in homes. Once this was no longer the case, it became the site of Club Natació Montjuïc training sessions before being managed by the Escola Pia school.
In 1992, the 1,400 sqm complex became the Gimnàs Social Sant Pau, which was saved from bankruptcy in 2012 when workers turned it into the "sports and social transformation" cooperative they hope will be around for years to come.