Lock­ers lighten load for Lis­bon’s home­less

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

LIS­BON: Ev­ery­thing Fabio Fer­reira Silva owns fits in­side one of the 12 bright yel­low lock­ers in front of Lis­bon’s river­side Santa Apolo­nia rail sta­tion. Silva and other home­less peo­ple use the metal cab­i­nets to store their be­long­ings, which they used to drag around the hilly, cob­ble­stone streets of the Por­tuguese cap­i­tal in boxes, bags or shop­ping carts.

“Th­ese lock­ers are very im­por­tant,” he said hold­ing open the door to his locker where he stores a blan­ket, clothes, a mo­bile phone charger, toi­letries and per­sonal doc­u­ments. “Imag­ine hav­ing to walk up ev­ery­where with ev­ery­thing in the rain.” The so-called “sol­i­dar­ity lock­ers” were set up by the small char­ity ACA to make life eas­ier for the city’s home­less and help them get back on track.

The first dozen lock­ers-which have an outer slot for mail and a rod to hang clothes-were set up in 2013 in Ar­roios, a res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood in cen­tral Lis­bon with wide boule­vards. Another 12 lock­ers were put up out­side the Santa Apolo­nia train sta­tion last year and the as­so­ci­a­tion is wait­ing for ap­proval from city of­fi­cials to in­stal 36 more. Each set of 12 lock­ers costs 11,700 eu­ros ($12,950) to make and in­stall. Lis­bon city hall cov­ers 60 per­cent of the cost with the rest com­ing from do­na­tions by the pub­lic.

‘Gain their trust’

The lock­ers-which are 1.8 me­ters tall and 50 cen­time­ters wide-are as­signed to a home­less per­son for one year and users have 24 hour ac­cess to their be­long­ings. Other cities around the world such as Van­cou­ver and Salt Lake City have set up lock­ers for the home­less but they are for day use only. Char­i­ties es­ti­mate there are just over 800 home­less peo­ple in Lis­bon.

To ob­tain and keep us­ing a locker a home­less per­son has to prom­ise to keep the area around them clean and stay in reg­u­lar con­tact with the ACA’s street team. Mem­bers of the squad help locker users ob­tain doc­u­ments, get med­i­cal treat­ment, se­cure a state pen­sion or find hous­ing. “That is the key to the project’s suc­cess,” said ar­chi­tect Duarte Paiva who de­signed the lock­ers and founded ACA in 2007. “Hav­ing a locker is very im­por­tant but it is not enough. Peo­ple need so­lu­tions to their prob­lems. Of­ten the home­less are sus­pi­cious of so­cial ser­vices. This is a way to gain their trust.”

The street team is help­ing Silva, who moved to Por­tu­gal from Guinea Bis­sau, a tiny, coup-prone for­mer Por­tuguese colony in West Africa three years ago, to get a res­i­dency per­mit. He has strug­gled to find steady work with­out the per­mit and has been sleep­ing on the streets since his sis­ter-an un­em­ployed sin­gle mother of two — kicked him out of her house in Septem­ber be­cause she could not af­ford to sup­port him any longer. “I re­ally just need to be able to work,” said Silva, 37, who was stylishly dressed in a clean, pink but­ton­down shirt and cap.

‘Not a lit­tle thing’

Joana Guer­reiro, a psy­chol­o­gist on ACA’s street team, said the lock­ers “em­power peo­ple”. “Hav­ing a key to your own space also gives peo­ple pur­pose to their lives and a sense of con­trol,” she said. Forty-five peo­ple have used a locker since the project was launched. Many like Mar­cio Miguel, 36, credit the project with help­ing them get off the streets. He moved to Lis­bon from Por­tu­gal’s mid-At­lantic Azores is­lands ear­lier this year but quickly found him­self liv­ing on the streets af­ter he lost his con­struc­tion job be­cause he abused co­caine and heroin. Be­fore hav­ing a locker he would hide his be­long­ings-clothes, food, doc­u­ments-to avoid hav­ing to carry ev­ery­thing with him. His stuff was of­ten gone when he re­turned. — AFP

LIS­BON: Emilio smiles as he shows the con­tent of his locker near Santa Apolo­nia train sta­tion. —AFP

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