Living on the street in improvised tents, next to Bairro Alfredo Bensaúde, in Lisbon, several families complain about a municipal housing. Some even have an assigned home, but refuse to live with their parents, even in times of a pandemic.
“We are very afraid of the coronavirus. All people are able to have a quarantine in conditions, we do not have a quarantine, our quarantine is inside a tent, ”says Naide Negrita, eight months pregnant.
The girl is scheduled to arrive on June 11. The countdown to getting to know the face of this new life is overshadowed by the concern that basic conditions, including a house, are lacking.
Waiting for their first child, Naide Negrita, 16, and Wilson Silva, 21, both without work, began their life as a couple in a municipal housing in the Alfredo Bensaúde neighborhood, which they occupied illegally and from which they were evicted in June 2019.
“The Chamber said it had resettlement for people who were evicted, but no, it was a lie, they had resettlement for people who were evicted two months ago,” says the young woman.
In response to Lusa, the company Gebalis – Lisbon Municipal Housing Rental Management ensures that the couple was not identified “in the different stages, on different days and times, or in the reports issued, as being living in a tent”.
“Wilson Silva is an authorized cohabitant in the Alfredo Bensaúde neighborhood, at his mother's house, in a T3 type fire, suitable for the size of the family”, says Gebalis, adding that the house includes the inclusion of Naide in the household, “not generating any index overoccupation ”.
Asked about this family support, Naide talks about the need for “separate lives”: “When we get married, everyone goes to their own place. He has his mother, we are not going to his mother's house, nor am I going to my house ”.
Built on the sidewalk of Rua Costa Malheiro, with a structure erected by wooden beams, covered with an awning and a door, the couple's tent reflects the desire to live in a house. With a clothes line at the entrance, the interior of the tent has an improvised kitchen and a corner with a small television.
The little water they have is to make “food, wash the dishes and, occasionally, wash the floor, because of the dust”.
“Every day I call Câmara, to find out if they know anything about my case, they tell me to wait,” says Naide.
In addition to the families who live on the street, the neighborhood, in the parish of Olivais, looks like a separate area in Lisbon, where the degradation of the exterior of the buildings stands out, with fallen tiles, graffiti on the walls and garbage on the floor. Within the scope of the “Aqui Há Mais Bairro” program, the second phase of rehabilitation is underway, advances Gebalis – the work includes “intervention on roofs and facades of buildings and areas of common spaces”.
As for the number of families living on the street, the company is unaware of how many there are, with the exception that it is an “occupation of public space” that “goes beyond the skills of Gebalis”.
With the eviction order paperwork, which took place on February 28, the couple Leandro Silva, 18, and Vanessa Garcia, 23, parents of a one-year-old baby suffering from asthma, have lived on the street for two months. , housed in a blue awning, with reduced space, filled by the mattress where they sleep.
“We are going through a very complicated phase, we have no solution for this”, explains Leandro, hoping to have a response from the municipality to the request for a house.
The makeshift tent allows them to sleep protected, but it does not shelter from the cold, nor from the rain. “We are unsure. So, living on the street like this, in quarantine, because of the Covid-19, it is very complicated ”, he stresses.
However, Leandro is an authorized cohabitant at his mother's house, says the manager of the municipal lease, adding that, “upon eviction, his goods were transported by Gebalis, at his request, to this municipal fire”.
Due to the pandemic, the eviction of families illegally occupying municipal fires has been suspended since March 12, with the municipality relocating the last evicted families, in particular Alfredo Bensaúde.
“If they helped some, they had to help others too. It is not just helping each other and living on the street ”, complains Leandro.
Vanessa completes the appeal: “At least one roof, under one roof we don't go through what we are going through […]. Because of this virus that is there, it is very dangerous to be on the street, you should understand our situation ”.
The situation in the neighborhood portrays “a housing crisis that exists and has been deepening over the past few years”, says Rita Silva, of the Habita association, referring that families cannot find either social housing or housing in the market.
Thus, they begin to find alternatives – cars, tents or overcrowded pensions, “living in many ways that are not acceptable and that are not worthy”.
“At the time of a pandemic, this is proving to be an enormous public health danger”, he warns.
Habita is surveying people for lodging at Alfredo Bensaúde, adding that there are at least more than a dozen families living on the street, “in addition to many cases of extreme overcrowding that exist within social housing”.
Also in a tent, Marco Aurélio Silva, 49, lives with his wife, Maria da Liberdade, with 77% disability. Next to it, in the trunk of a van, sleep his son, Abrão Silva, and his daughter-in-law. Before, they all lived in a municipal housing in the Bensaúde neighborhood, but were evicted on 26 February.
“We were four people living inside that house, we were evicted and we came to the street,” says Abrão, lamenting the lack of conditions to comply with quarantine. The tents do not have a bathroom, so washing your hands and taking a shower “is impossible”.
They were evicted for illegal occupation, but the housing remains vacant, says: “Dozens of houses are closed and with no one inside”.
Unaware of the case of this family, Gebalis stresses that “there are no vacant fires”. The empty dwellings are under construction or are in the tendering phase, but are already “assigned to families who are legitimately waiting for a housing response”, through application and fulfilling the criteria of the Municipal Housing Regulation.
With four children, David Fernandes, 37, and his wife have lived in a municipal house since 2006, but they say they were evicted in February, which forced them to set up a tent. The children want to try to study at home, but it is unworkable: “They are tired of calling me, the teachers, there are no conditions at all as they can study”, emphasizes the father.
“I've tried to ask for help, but there is no help from anyone, even if it was just to be in a temporary home until the virus passed,” he says.
According to Gebalis, the family occupied a house in the neighborhood that was vacated for “illicit lease to another family”.
The illegal subletting was identified when the illegally occupied houses were evicted in February, which led to a criminal complaint against David Fernandes.
The family that had sublet the house “is one of the 13 families signaled to which the social emergency housing response was given by Santa Casa da Misericórdia de Lisboa”, Gebalis says.
In the context of the evictions, which took place between February and March, “there were situations in which the situation was clearly used by families who returned to the neighborhood in the expectation of obtaining housing,” concludes the company.