In Santiago de Chile, there are many people who live in a street situation, either contextually due to their arrival from abroad, or because of addiction problems, gambling, etc. However, in neighbourhoods such as Providencia, Las Condes, Vitacura or Lo Barnechea it is very difficult to see tents when walking through the city. The change is drastic when you go to all the other communes, also including the middle class ones. But who are these people with whom we meet every day to cohabit the public space?
Last June, the Gente de la Calle Foundation carried out a census of people living on the streets, within the framework of a project supported by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation and in cooperation with various organisations.
in collaboration with various organisations. The work, which focused on the people who at that time were staying in the central alley of Alameda Entre, near the intersection with Cumming, emphasised the Venezuelan population and involved 74 volunteers who managed to interview 349 people living on the streets.
The aim of the survey was to identify the new profiles of people living on the streets, which have become more complex as a result of the humanitarian crisis. “Our interest was born out of what happened last year in Iquique and to know that what happened there could happen here”, says Karina Bravo Montero from Fundación Gente de la Calle.
In September and again in November 2021 in Iquique, a city in the north of Chile, a demonstration took place where there was violent behaviour against migrants, including the burning of tents even where families with children were staying. According to the participants, the security of the city was compromised by the high influx of migrants entering the country irregularly crossing the desert and finding in Iquique the first city from where they could then continue their migratory path.
The report identified four main points:
1- Families. 33% of those surveyed were Venezuelan families. 4.3% of them consisted of only father and children, while 34% of them consisted of mother and children, and 61.7% of the families surveyed were from Venezuela.
61.7% of the families surveyed had both parents present.
Of the Chilean respondents, only 1.9% were families.
2- Feminisation of the street situation. Due to this new profile of street migrants, there has been a considerable increase in the number of women, even though they remain a minority. Among the Chileans surveyed, 79.1% were men. Among the other nationalities, the number was around 87.5% and among the Venezuelan population around 67.6%.
3- Self-sufficiency in employment. Among the Venezuelan population, there is a certain degree of self-sufficiency in employment: 79% work by word of mouth or on their own account. The Chileans surveyed, even though they have identity cards and are citizens, and therefore have more access to government benefits and social security, are less self-sufficient in terms of employment.
4- Consumption. Very low drug and alcohol consumption is registered among the Venezuelan population. Alcohol is mainly consumed by older people. While 2% of Venezuelans surveyed consumed alcohol on a regular basis, this figure rises to 20% among Chileans and 33% among Colombians, Bolivians and Peruvians. These low levels of alcohol and drug addiction among the Venezuelan population surveyed make it possible to generate a medium- and long-term work plan.
During the census and data collection, seven children under one year of age, from 4 months old, were identified in a very small geographical area. All the children identified belonged to foreign families.
From this initial information, it is clear that there is a variety of ways and reasons for people to meet and share a space as inhabitants of the same garden, as well as a variety of problems.
Karina Bravo, in charge of the study for the Gente de la Calle Foundation, spoke to Pressenza. What do you think this cadaster can be used for?
It is the closest thing to the social register of households and as these people do not have Chilean identity cards, they are not part of the register. Many times they are people with visas in process,
people who do not yet have a visa, and people who have entered through a disqualified passage and this does not allow them to obtain a RUT. The Alameda has become a place of forced reception and is being recognised as a place to spend the night. On the other hand it is a focus of future conflicts, fights, discrimination and many other things that we do not know. The non-management of the person who is entering through a disqualified passage is complex: on the one hand, the issue of tremendous vulnerability; on the other hand, there may be groups that have a criminal record and we don’t know that.
Do you see any possibility for these people to improve their situation?
The idea is to be able to bring access to health care closer to this group in the central alley of the Alameda.
We are negotiating the possibility of operations and registration, because up to now, fundamental rights depend on who is going to attend to them: people go there, they apply and they are told no because they don’t have an identity card, because they entered through unauthorised passages and that depends on the person they meet. And this is not supervised either.
In addition, we have to consider the issue of mental health, the stress caused by acculturation. It is something that overrides them and, out of nowhere, someone can start to have strange behaviour, psychotic crises, delusions of persecution. The impact of these migration policies with huge waiting times, collective discrimination, lack of networks and social links lead to those who are in a street situation remaining on the streets. They create historical people on the street who can only be assisted.
On the other hand, in relation to minors, we are trying to get them into basic education, which is also difficult because of the limited number of places available.
Many of these people are no longer to be seen in the same alley. Where are they? What happens to them?
Most of the families on the streets have been relocated. Twenty-two shelters were set up in the country specifically for these cases. Volunteers made their own campaign to relocate these families and the Archbishopric gave them bags of support. The land registry reinforced the urgency of addressing this problem.
Before these people were relocated, the municipality removed it for these families in transit hotels as a short-term intervention in the coldest weeks of winter. The support was for one or two weeks. There were families who repeated and afterwards returned to the same points in the street, because a community had been generated among Venezuelan families.
Previously, in the shelters, families were separated into men, women and women with children. The Don Bosco Foundation used to be the only place that had shelter for families.
Now the referral to these houses is much quicker, as soon as the alert is lifted; and the duration of the accommodation is one year. We are working on the issue of habitability and other aspects as well, such as regularising people’s status or linking them to social security services.
This government, through the Ministry of Social Development and Family, has generated more initiatives in relation to working with people living on the streets. There are also interventions with people who spend the night on the banks of the Mapocho River.
It seems that this is the first approach of such a cadastre. What political role is the Foundation playing at this historic moment?
The Foundation will be an interlocutor of the State on the issue of the violation of the rights of people living on the streets. As I was saying, the profile of these people has been changing, especially with this migratory flow of people in a situation of vulnerability. We are trying to survey the Venezuelan street population, a population that is arriving and if it is not tackled now, this could mean an increase in the chronicity of their stay in the street. Most of the people interviewed say that they feel better off here than in their country of origin, because at least here they have the security that with 2,000 pesos they can eat; the hope of being able to work and give their children a future. They also mention that there is not as much crime here as in their countries.
What positive aspects do you want to highlight from this experience?
We have seen a lot of solidarity, there is community in this space, there is support among the people who are staying there overnight. For example, they have tasks to take care of the children when the adults go out to work in the area. The nice thing was also what was put together among the volunteers.
The National Coordinator of Immigrants, a person representing the Archbishopric, the Street Programme of the Ministry of Social Development, Colo Colo Sports Club, the Estrella Roja Social and Sports Club, the SEREMI of Health, the intercultural line of the SEREMI of Health with psychosocial support, the Solidarity Support Network (an organisation of Venezuelan citizens present in Chile), part of civil society and specialised volunteers that we have contributed to train in the School of Volunteering that we founded four years ago. We link up with pro-migrant organisations to strengthen this specialised line of work. These are constant articulations that allow us to carry out a more comprehensive work.
We have put together a team that is eager to do things, to share with people.
What relevance does this study have now, at this historic moment?
This study is like the first national approach to the issue of migration in street situations.
This is the moment to be able to generate intervention alternatives, because otherwise it is very difficult to solve the situation later on. It is extremely urgent that the National Migration Service or the Ministry of its interior declare the work with this population. Right now, it is about promoting safe spaces, but there is no talk of regularisation. In the cases of children, strategies have been developed to regularise them: it is so that they can go to school and hospital, but they cannot apply for aid because they are children and their parents are in an irregular situation.
Therefore, we are left with some important questions: What is going to happen in another year? How will the work with these families be approached?
Several institutions were invited to participate in the cadaster, among them the National Coordination of Immigrants. We listened to the voice of Catalina Bosch, ex-spokesperson and activist for the Coordinadora, who participated directly in the cadaster.
From the Coordinadora I had the privilege of being the person who participated in that instance and it was a very moving experience because of what it meant to know the lives and stories of the people.
People’s lives and stories. It is different to see them from afar, but it is different to know how migration can hit families, women and particularly children so hard. That day I took away with me a feeling of great shock, but also the decision to continue collaborating and particularly contributing to activating intersectoral articulations, so that these situations can be addressed urgently. As far as I and the Coordinating Committee could, we took with us the commitment to contribute to finding a solution, understanding that being able to reveal this reality and describe it was the first big step in this task.
This October 30, the National Coordinating Committee of Immigrants will celebrate its eighth anniversary and will do so in a way that is consistent with its mandate.
We are going to celebrate it near Barrio Yungay, in a community centre in the commune of Santiago, which is the most populated by migrants in the country, and with the expectation that it will be a space of encounter, and communion.
A space for meeting, and celebration between migrants and pro-migrants, in order to continue with the challenge of making ourselves visible and making our needs and also our contributions visible.
Once again it is so important to make visible the efforts of many people for the benefit of others and of society as a whole. These facts show us how easy it can be not to turn our faces to the other side, ending the invisibility of so many neighbours who today share public spaces with us.
The results of the analysis of the cadaster data will be formally presented to the public on Monday 17th October at 2pm, in San Francisco N° 2002, Santiago.
To attend it is necessary to confirm participation by filling out the form (limited places) https://acortar.link/e5Qf8i
Link to the video of the research: https://youtu.be/NBtHEqSW1bI