Portugal already suffers from significant poverty and the recent COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating these struggles. Prior to the pandemic, a fifth of the population, or approximately two million people, were considered at risk of poverty or social exclusion. The pandemic pushed around 400,000 people below the poverty line. Additionally, it increased the at-risk-of-poverty rate by 25%. However, Portugal’s two new poverty projects, formed within the last two years, work to significantly mitigate Portugal’s poverty problems. The projects address two main problems within Portugal: homelessness and child poverty. In addition, these two projects plan to ambitiously confront these features of poverty beyond the pandemic to offer sustainable poverty reduction in Portugal.
CRESCER’s É Uma Mesa Project
CRESCER is an organization that funds several initiatives in Portugal. It aims to promote the health and social integration of the most vulnerable on the streets of Lisbon. In recent months, CRESCER created the É Uma Mesa project. One of a few innovative projects in Portugal, É Uma Mesa centers around the restaurant and catering business. It prompts the social inclusion of specific vulnerable groups into the labor market. The project focuses mostly on homeless people but also supports refugees in extreme poverty. There are two main features of the project: conducting extensive training and offering restaurant employment.
The first feature consists of extensive training for homeless and extremely impoverished refugee groups. The É Uma Mesa effort trains these individuals in social and relational skills. They receive this on top of the service and catering skills acquired from on-the-job restaurant training. Furthermore, É Uma Mesa also offers “psychosocial support” to improve mental health for the homeless. Multifaceted training helps enable better integration of the homeless into the labor market and leads to greater inclusion within Portuguese society.
The Project’s Impact
É Uma Mesa notably supported the homeless community in recent months. FEANTSA, a major European group working on homelessness, recognized its achievements by awarding the project the 2021 Silver Prize of the Ending Homelessness Awards. Moreover, the project does not focus solely on homelessness during the pandemic and it is planning for the future with some notable long-term objectives.
These long-term objectives aim to significantly minimize Portuguese poverty and homelessness. One aim is to integrate 75 beneficiaries into training and 40 beneficiaries into the labor market each year. Efforts seek to improve the lives of the beneficiaries beyond the short term. To achieve this, ameliorating social and health conditions to ensure consistent stability remains a priority. And, CRESCER hopes to ensure the project is self-sustainable after three years.
La Caixa Foundation
La Caixa Foundation is the second of two new poverty projects in Portugal. Its main goal consists of providing several major initiatives that improve Portuguese child poverty and education. Its “social observatory” division is instrumental in conducting studies. Supported by the Center of Economics for Prosperity (PROSPER), the effort works to provide more accurate figures on poverty in Portugal. The on-the-ground situation in Portugal plunged significant proportions of the population into poverty or propelled many to become at risk of poverty.
The other key division of this foundation is the “social programs” division. Specifically, this division made its most significant impact on minimizing child poverty and furthering education prospects for impoverished families. The collaboration of more than 400 local social organizations promotes the social and educational development of young children and adolescents. Simultaneously, this is in conjunction with mobilization efforts targeted at eradicating child poverty. As a result, La Caixa Foundation’s “CaixaProinfancia” has proven to be significant in its impact. In 2020, the project’s work enabled 58,841 impoverished children to attend school and supported 35,326 families.
Ultimately, these dual efforts reduce the impact of Portuguese poverty through multiple efforts. As the pandemic continues, many of those suffering the most gain critical support at critical times. As La Caixa and CRESCER continue to meet their goals, many of Portugal’s most needy stand to benefit.
– Gabriel Sylvan