22H: “It’s not just a supper, it’s a friendly word and a gesture of affection”

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The “hurricane woman”, Melissa, 30, is one of the people who approaches the van parked near the Reboleira station (Amadora), to collect one of the 140 suppers. Roma and transsexual, she has lived on the street since she was 13. She left Cascais, where she lived, because of sexual abuse. She entered the world of prostitution. She started staying overnight in Rossio (Lisbon) and there she came into contact with some institutions, especially the Comunidade Vida e Paz (CVP): “I have known the Community for many years, I was in the center they have in Chelas and they do not discriminate.” With the support of Housing First, she got a house, but now she is unemployed, has lost her shelter and will return to living on the street. She is always at Reboleira station asking for help, “I don’t give up, I only have the 7th grade, but I have the school of life.”

Cremilde, 54, lives alone in a motorhome nearby, with only a mattress and little else. In a family conflict, she lost her house and is still waiting for an answer from the court. She lives off the bracelets she makes and sells on the street. In addition to help from the CVP, there is a café that gives her some food and water.

“Lap D” is one of the four routes that CVP takes every day. Rui Singeis, a volunteer for almost 13 years, knows this route like the back of his hand and drives the van every two weeks, carrying more than 140 suppers. The street team puts the suppers in the van and leaves Alvalade before nightfall, with no estimated time of return. The route passes through Avenida dos Estados Unidos, Benfica, Reboleira, Alcântara and Cais do Sodré. At the first stop, the van stops, beeps and people start to appear. Anxiously but peacefully they wait for the volunteers to take out the paper bags: two sandwiches, a carton of milk and a glass of water. Several of them say “I’m hungry”, “Can I bring a backup?”, “I didn’t have lunch because there’s no money”, “Do you have any clothes I can wear?”. Volunteer Paula Cheio explains: “The suppers are a way to interact with the homeless, what we want is to get people off the street.”

Compared to 10 years ago, the reality on the streets has changed, life is harder. There are more people experiencing homelessness, especially more single women and more migrants. The effects of the pandemic have also been felt. Volunteers have decreased, but now, there are about 600. During the lockdown, they were the only ones allowed to walk the streets. “Please don’t leave us” – that’s all the homeless asked.

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