‘Housing first’: the first home of a new life | Society

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Antonio Sánchez opens the door of his apartment in the Sevillian neighborhood of La Macarena. He is a third without elevator, very bright, with three rooms that he shares with two other colleagues, a medium-sized living room with just the right furniture, a small bathroom and a large kitchen. He has been there since October 2020. Nothing, apparently, squeaks in the context that surrounds Antonio, 36 years old. But as you well know, with him it is not convenient to remain in appearances. These are the first 15 months of the last six years in which he wakes up under a roof, cooks his meals and washes himself daily.

Antonio is one of the first homeless people in Seville to enter the program of housing first that the Fundación Hogar Sí has ​​started in the Andalusian capital in collaboration with the Seville City Council, which since 2016 has opted for this network system of supervised flats that put housing at the epicenter of the solution to help this group achieve self-sufficiency and abandon their situation of social exclusion. This system, which most of the large cities in Spain have implemented, is the model that the Government has opted for in the new National Strategy for Homeless People to address the homelessness, on which you are working.

“The covid made me reflect and I decided that I had to change my life, but it is clear that if they had not given me the opportunity to be on this floor, to meet all the professionals who take care of me, it would have been hell,” says Antonio . He suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and has used cannabis and pills since he was a child. At the age of 25, he had an outbreak and went to live with his grandfather’s house. “It gave me a depression, I spent three years without leaving the house, then I went in and out until my family told me that I couldn’t continue like this and I started living in different places, in rooms, until I ended up on the street,” he summarizes.

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Antonio does not deny that past and, in fact, continues to hang out with colleagues with whom he slept outdoors or in shelters. His smile does not close throughout the conversation. He lives for the moment and sets short-term goals, but he is very clear that, as long as it depends on him, he will not go back. “Having the key to this house in my hand calmed my mind and body,” he says, explaining the stress of being on the street and dealing not only with the disdain of passersby, but also with the problems of other homeless people.

In the projects of housing first No periods of stay in the flats are set, but its tenants are encouraged to acquire autonomy so that they can live with their own resources. In Hogar Sí they provide them with 30 euros to buy food and those who work, like Antonio who is a kitchen assistant, have to contribute an amount as rent. “We work from close accompaniment. The individual comes first and each one has different needs and different times”, explains Alejandra Puente, director of the housing solution for autonomy at Hogar Sí. “There are those who require more technical support, others more emotional, more relational or socio-health … We also help them with the administrative part, because many of them do not know that they are entitled to a benefit or cannot process it, we try to help them find a job…“, indicates Puente.

Since they started the project in Seville in October 2020, they have helped 14 people in the four flats with three rooms that they have in the Andalusian capital. In Spain they began in 2017, a period in which they have supported 191 people in personal processes with an average stay of 18 months. “What we want is for them to take control of their lives,” Puente abounds.

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That is what Lucía R. is trying to do, a 32-year-old transsexual woman who has been bordering on social exclusion since she was five. At that age she was handed over to the guardianship services of the Junta de Andalucía and she grew up with them. When she came of age, the little money they gave her was running out and after a time in Malaga, which she prefers not to talk about, she ended up with 22 in Seville and on the street. “I got used to it. I have lived in tents, in cars…”, she explains, sitting on the sofa in the house that she has shared since the end of 2020 with another woman and a man in the Cerro del Águila neighborhood.

Still, she was scared at night. “In the middle of nowhere, you never know who is going to come to you… I have been in a situation of maximum anxiety, maximum vulnerability and at risk of being done all kinds of harm, even being killed,” she says. That fear has been left behind. Also the cold in the mornings and the queues to take a shower in the shelters… But in this time, in addition to achieving security, Lucía has noticed that she has left aside the most sentimental part of her. “When they hurt you so much, they humiliate you so much, being in a comfortable situation is like what you say, well now I’m going to slam the door. But I want to recover my emotional part, ”she acknowledges. For this reason, in the afternoons, when she finishes her job as a cleaner, she usually goes to shelters or associations to help people who are now in the same situation as she was a few months ago.

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Lucía R. in the sheltered apartment where she lives.
Lucía R. in the sheltered apartment where she lives.PACO PUENTES (THE COUNTRY)

Solutions adapted to each need

Before entering a program housing first, the social services professionals select the profiles that they consider can be adapted to this model. “There are many people for whom this is not a realistic or viable response because this reality is very complex,” warns Susana Quiroga, a specialist at the NGO Accem in the care of homeless people. In Spain there are between 30,000 and 40,000 homeless people, 6,000 of them homeless. The profiles are very diverse and the attention must be specific, defends her Quiroga. “Housing is a right and that is part of the solution, but there are groups that have needs that prevent them from being alone in a home, elderly people, people with severe disabilities, people under 25, women who are victims of gender violence…” .

The answer is, according to Quiroga, to dispense with the large hostels or even smaller resources where the stay time is limited to a few days to offer accommodation adapted to each of the different needs, involving the networks that work with these groups. “In the big cities there is a lot of awareness about homelessness and they offer great answers, although it is necessary to work with other networks, but the important thing is to respect the personal process of each one of them, the important thing is the person. In the smaller towns there is less awareness and they continue to be held responsible for their situation,” Quiroga warns.

In these months Antonio has recovered the link with his mother, whom his father abandoned when he was eight years old. He eats with her every day, then he goes to the gym and then, at home with his roommates, they watch a series. The routine that has been created —essential for him— includes visits from the program supervisor with whom he sets new goals. He knows that he will soon have to leave the house and is realistic. “With what I earn I can live in a room, not to rent anything, but little by little.” When they leave the project, at Hogar Sí they follow up for about six months to make sure how they progress in their integration process.

Lucía does aspire to be able to buy a house one day, although her short-term goal is to change her name. Coquettish, it shows her room, a reflection of her little daily dreams. She has two closets where she keeps her clothes, which have also stopped suffering the onslaught of the street —“They stole them, when it rained I had nowhere to put them…”, she says—, recycled furniture, butterfly decorations and a blanket to snuggle up with. watching TV. When she recovers from a knee injury she wants to take up her dance class again.

Antonio and Lucía are very young, but they have lived thousands of lives, none of them complacent. Now they are starting a new one that, this time, they hope will have a happy ending. “In most cases the endings are,” says Puente, appealing to his experience.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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