Buenos Aires homeless stuck on the streets during coronavirus lockdown
BUENOS AIRES, April 6, 2020 (BSS/AFP) – The Argentine government has
ordered people to stay at home until mid-April, but thousands have literally
nowhere to go — for them “home” is the street.
The homeless are among the very few seen on the streets of the capital
Buenos Aires since President Alberto Fernandez issued a mandatory confinement
order on March 20, and since extending beyond it an initial two weeks.
They sleep in squares and in the doorways of bank buildings and now-
shuttered stores in the city’s swanky center. They say municipality shelters
are overcrowded and some have decried police violence, saying they have at
times been forcibly removed from spots they have lived on for years.
– Trying to cope –
A year ago, Richard Marcelo set up an improvised shelter on the street near
the landmark Obelisk monument on the city’s broad July 9 avenue.
“We are trying to cope with it as best we can,” said the Uruguayan, 46,
surrounded by rows of cardboard and mattresses where he and his companions
But for the homeless, there are worse things than the pandemic.
“What we are afraid of is hunger, everything else including the
Emilio Sebastian Barcia, 28, is the newest of the group, among the recent
wave of Buenos Aires homeless. He has been on the streets only three months
since losing his job as a cook.
“I was desperate, I was hungry and I met this group,” which has provided
him with a lifeline: “Now with everything that’s going on with the
coronavirus, if you were to leave me alone in the corner, I would die.”
The city authority says it has accelerated plans to transfer homeless
people to temporary shelters in sports centers or hotels, which have been
readied to ease pressure on normal municipal shelters during the pandemic.
Official figures showed 1,146 people were living on the streets in Buenos
Aires in 2019.
However, according a count by social and political organizations, the
number of homeless in the capital soared to more than 7,500 in the last few
months of Argentina’s crippling economic crisis.
Currently, amid Argentina’s rising unemployment, over 35 percent of the
population is living below the poverty line, of whom eight percent are
“We do not want anyone to be left on the streets before the arrival of the
coronavirus spike,” expected in mid-April, said city ombudsman Alejandro
Amor said that 700 people have already been taken off the streets, but that
still leaves thousands more.
But he conceded: “It is very difficult to achieve this goal.” – Eating from
For four years, Edgardo Gabriel Villalba lived with his friends Claudio and
Dani in the city’s San Martin square, under the monument to Argentina’s
“I was left on the street because of a disease — HIV,” he said.
He says an avalanche of advice and slogans from the government has left him
“They never explained anything to us about what we have to do…the police
come and run you off,” said the 37-year-old, showing bruises which he said
were the result of police blows.
His group frequently visits the local Catholic church to get a daily plate
of food. But sometimes there is not enough.
In that case “we go to the garbage bins… Yesterday we ate a cold cut that
was in bad condition. It was smelly, but we hadn’t eaten for days. We washed
it and ate it.”
He knows the government is providing temporary shelters. But he is afraid
of being confined with others and becoming even more vulnerable to catching
“I survived HIV, but now I’m very afraid of the coronavirus,” he said.
– Dogs for company –
Maria, who didn’t want to give her last name, lives in front of the Plaza
de Mayo, near the Banco Santander building in front of one of Argentina’s
main tourist draws, the Casa Rosada presidential palace.
She has lived in the spot for years, almost always seen reading. Despite
finding it more difficult to find food now that the streets are deserted, she
says she is happy to have all that space just for her.
“I really enjoy solitude. For me it is the most beautiful thing about the
coronavirus,” she said.
With her two dogs and her books for company, she won’t hear about going to
a shelter to wait out the pandemic: “I cannot abandon my animals.”