Digging to Roam

Poverty and Homelessness in Argentina

Puerto Madero 086

Poverty and Homelessness in Argentina <- Watch the Documentary Here

Poverty increasing in Buenos Aires as more residents populate shantytowns and fall victim to homelessness. Meanwhile, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (whose presidency will come to end December 10th), has declared that Argentina poverty levels are among the lowest in the world.

"How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?" Pope Francis


Summer crept up on me this year. Only a few weeks ago I could get away with trekking about in boots and a sweater. Wait, I don't mean just boots and a sweater. It's all the regular clothing and boots and a sweater. I'm not hanging around the city mooning everyone. I wear pants too. Point is, now it's too hot to wear boots and sweaters. The other point is, I have clothes to choose from. I also have a closet with clothes. I have a bedroom with a closet. I have an apartment with a bedroom. I have a safe place to call home. At night I go to sleep in a bed with a soft pillow. If it's too hot I can turn on a fan or the air conditioner. When it's cold I can close the windows to keep out the cold, I can curl up on the couch with a warm blanket. These are privileges that are denied to so many.

People are homeless everywhere, some places try to outlaw homelessness as if that will make the problem go away. We say "the homeless" instead of "people who are homeless." People. People who sleep in public areas during the day because it's a safer option than leaving yourself vulnerable and alone by sleeping in the open in the dark. Even those who have homes but their homes are in such dilapidated condition that the walls are only up thanks to the help of some wood beams propped against them. Children without shoes spend the day on the subway trying to make money by selling packs of gum or by singing for passengers.

Anyone could become homeless. From a little bad luck to one poor choice, that could be you or me. Here in Buenos Aires there are a very limited number of beds available in shelters for those who lack their own. Poverty and homelessness in Buenos Aires, Argentina is pervasive. Around the world the contrasts between the impoverished and the very wealthy is alarming. Buenos Aires is no exception.  In 2015, Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said that the poverty rate in Argentina is among the lowest in the world. Due to controversial methodology, there is widespread concern that Kirchner cited falsified data. Other studies suggest that the poverty rate is closer to 25 or 30 percent. Former Secretary of Culture José Nun, has claimed that poverty in Argentina is similar to the poverty in 2001/2002 during the Argentine Great Depression. The poverty rate was 54 percent by late 2001. In February 2010, at least 15,000 people were homeless in Buenos Aires. 4,500 of whom are children and 2,000 are elderly. Over half a million Buenos Aires residents live without secure housing and an estimated 275,000 live in villa miserias, or shantytowns. Without accurate data, advocates cannot accurately assess the effectiveness of different programs meant to alleviate poverty and eradicate homelessness.

I finished this short video after I spent a day wandering about in an affluent neighborhood, Puerto Madero. A gorgeous avenue next to a nature reserve hosts friends playing futbol, couples cuddling in the sun, and families walking with strollers. This particular area is just around the corner from the Hilton. The day was gorgeous, brilliant blue sky, and a breeze lightened the humid air.

November 27, 2015

The contrast between one side of the avenue and the other is stark. The Hilton lies only meters away from a park where the homeless stash their goods in the hollows of tree trunks. Many of which are burned, covered in an ashy soot. A kitchen in the wind. A makeshift building is tacked together with corrugated metal, broken glass, and scrap wood. Nearby a large metal cage acts as a wall for a lean-to. It's clearly someone's home, shoes are neatly set outside and colorful clothing is hung on the metal to dry in the sun. A large gathering of primarily men are drinking and sharing asado nearby. A person is sleeping in an alcove made by hedges and several benches, guarded by a loyal dog. That is obviously a home as well. I feel like I'm trespassing as I walk past. I can't talk to anyone, it isn't safe. I'm perpetuating class inequality, colonialism, and white supremacy by taking up space and making my "observations" from afar. The contrast of abject poverty and obscene wealth is sickening.

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1 Comment

  1. Alice Lynn on December 6, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    A powerful piece of journalism. To see and acknowledge the suffering and inequality of society is an uncomfortable exercise as it almost commands the viewer to take action. To step out of our safe haven and be…what? Perhaps that is one of the questions we struggle with. Donations of food, services, and clothing can help but it seem like a pittance compared to the rising tide of our homeless population. Can we give away our riches and follow Him?

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