BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — While Spanish authorities tell the public that staying home is the best way to beat the coronavirus pandemic, some people are staying out because home has come to mean the streets of Madrid and Barcelona.
Spain, which ranks fourth worldwide among the countries with the most virus cases, is under a government-imposed lockdown that has closed stores, emptied office buildings and left cities largely deserted, day and night.
In typically bustling Barcelona, figures with boxes and blankets, mattresses or tents, punctuate the eerie emptiness. The bare sidewalks and doorways of shuttered shops where they bed down during a national health emergency accentuate the isolation of the city’s homeless population, of about 1,000.
“It is as if there has been a nuclear explosion and (people) are all sheltering in the bunker. Only us, the homeless, are left outside,” says 36-year-old Gana, who has lived on the street for more than eight years and uses only one name.
He is taking advantage of the unprecedented absence of activity to make the doorstep of a designer furniture store, which has been closed for days, the place where he lies on a cardboard box covered by a single blanket for the night.
Many of the city’s day centers for the homeless and soup kitchens have closed or reduced their hours during the lockdown.
“I thought I had seen everything in 12 years sleeping in the street, but no. This silence all day scares me … more than the virus itself,” says Riccardo, 32.
He shares, with four other homeless people of different nationalities, the floor of one of the wide shopping arcades that overlook Las Ramblas, the pedestrian avenue that is a Barcelona landmark. The only noise is from the motorcycles of municipal police.
Authorities are scrambling to get as many homeless people off the streets without cramming them into a group shelter, where the risk of getting infected with the virus could be even greater.
The sprawling IFEMA exhibition center in Madrid has been converted into a makeshift shelter with 150 beds. In Barcelona, an old school was turned into a temporary shelter for 56 people, and officials promise to make more beds available soon.
Those sleeping rough in Barcelona agree on one thing: panhandling for money or food is pointless now because there’s nobody around to give them anything.