BUENOS AIRES – The Red Puentes social assistance cooperative has seen its work multiplied since the economic crisis got worse at the end of last August in Argentina, where it offers food and all kinds of aid to the homeless and those with addiction problems, a plague more widespread every day in this country.
In Argentina more than a third of the population lives below the poverty line, a statistic that jumps to 50 percent for children. According to a census taken by various social organizations, over 7,200 people live on the streets of Buenos Aires, of whom more than 800 are children.
Official sources reported Monday that poverty in Argentina’s urban population stood at 35.4 percent during the first half of this year, 3.4 percent more than in the second half of 2018.
In such a context, the importance of this cooperative is growing, since for the past eight years it has offered food and social assistance for the destitute in the more than 20 shelters it operates around the country.
In one of those houses, located in the Flores neighborhood of the capital, just a few meters (yards) from the 1-11-14 Villa (one of the largest in Buenos Aires), some 20 people come from Monday to Friday to take part in the “cohabitation” that includes three meals a day (breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack), workshops and a common room where they can share experiences and their thoughts about them.
“A survey is made of the area... and everyone with health problems or some difficult situation on the streets or has nowhere to get food is invited to the house, and what the house proposes is communal living during their treatment,” EFE was told by Marian Lopez, in charge of the center and one of the many social workers who, together with psychologists and all kinds of professionals, make up the cooperative.
The shelter opens its doors Monday through Friday from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm, although “in case people need it,” they are offered takeout dinners and weekend activities.
Food for the poor is donated by social dining halls in the area, so that “every house is funded by the surrounding areas.”
Poverty has multiple facets that go from the more evident, like no work, no wages and nothing to eat, to others more hidden from view like the increasing drug addiction and the proliferation of new substances at prices plunging lower to attract a social class with almost no income.
“It’s a question of class – the wealthy consume the expensive (drugs) and the poor the cheap stuff,” said Lopez, who for almost two years has worked tirelessly in a house that has seen the number of people seeking aid increase from the five needy people when it started to almost 30 now.
To be found in the poorest areas are the substances known as “extermination drugs,” which are mainly alcohol, cocaine and coca paste.
These drugs are being taken by younger people all the time, above all by those linked to the concept of “survival” of the homeless, increasing what the organization calls the “line of consumption,” a mechanism that leads the youngest to work as “little soldiers” for drug traffickers who pay the young addicts in kind.
The Red Puentes cooperative offers a treatment more inclusive than traditional methods, because it avoids any “stigmatization” and offers individual therapies that honor the fact that “everyone has a different history.”
Its way of working is based on knowledge of the terrain, where it looks for people who need its help and invites them to the shelter, where they can take part in whatever activities they would prefer.
The dining room and the group therapies are the most visited, while others like theater and dance workshops meet with more resistance, since they include physical contact and could break through the armor of people who often have problems with trusting others.
This cooperative is one of the many social organizations that fight poverty day by day in a country that lives so concerned about economic indicators that it can forget about a problem lurking more and more on the streets of the country.
“Our houses are exploding,” Lopez said.
According to the National Statistics and Census Institute (Indec), the extreme poverty index in the first half of the year was 7.7 percent, one percentage point more than in the second half of 2018.
In a year-on-year comparison with the first half of 2018, the poverty index increased between last January and June by 8.1 percent, while that of extreme poverty was up 2.8 points.