For many, Spain conjures images of sun-soaked beaches, mouthwatering paellas, mesmerizing flamenco dancers or idyllic windmills towering over Don Quixote. However, Spain is more than the stereotypes that attract its many tourists. It is a complex country with pressing social and economic issues. One such issue is the prevalence of homelessness. Although Spain is a developed country, many are living within its borders without a place to call home. Here are nine facts about homelessness in Spain.
9 Facts About Homelessness in Spain
- The Spanish Constitution guarantees shelter. Article 47 of the Constitution, ratified in 1978, clearly states that all Spanish citizens have the right to “decent and adequate housing.”
- Unfortunately, approximately 0.07% of Spaniards are homeless. Recent surveys on homelessness in Spain estimate the homeless population to be between 23,000 and 35,000 people.
- Most Spaniards spend about 20% of their income on housing. Access to safe and stable housing is the prerequisite for avoiding homelessness. The average Spanish worker takes home around 34,000 euros per year, meaning that 6,800 euros would go toward rent. However, in major cities like Madrid and Barcelona, housing prices are steeper.
- Homelessness in Spain is increasing. The aftermath of economic and financial crises coupled with growing unemployment have left many unable to pay for adequate housing. The unemployment rate in Spain is now 14.41% and climbing from 13.78% last year. Data from the Spanish National Statistics Institute (INE) shows that from 2016 to 2018, the average number of people sleeping in homeless shelters increased by 9.5%.
- Most homeless people in Spain are men. A survey from 2012 found that 80.3% of homeless Spaniards are men. However, certain cities like Segovia are reporting increased proportions of homeless women.
- Negative policy changes are exacerbating the homelessness problem. Many autonomous communities in Spain are making cuts to welfare and homelessness services. The support that remains may be harder for vulnerable Spaniards to access because of more stringent eligibility requirements.
- The Spanish capital is especially hard on its homeless population. The Madrid city government has enacted architectural changes making it more difficult for the homeless to sleep in public. For example, there are armrests on benches, sloping benches and spikes on ledges and in doorways. All of these changes are to prevent homeless persons from sleeping outside. These recent changes are likely an effort to protect businesses and tourism in the city.
- However, positive policy changes are taking place as well. In 2015, the Spanish government enacted the Comprehensive National Homelessness Strategy. This strategy includes research, an impact study and support for homelessness services in major cities such as Barcelona. In Barcelona, a comprehensive four-year strategy has emerged that emphasizes the recognition of the rights of the homeless, access to healthcare, prevention of overcrowding in homeless shelters and improving the social perception of the city’s homeless.
- Certain NGOs are picking up where the government falls short. One such organization is Hogar Sí, a group that uses a housing-first strategy to ensure access to healthcare, right to housing and eradication of hate crimes for the homeless in Spain.
Economic crises and rising housing costs during the last 15 years have left scars that continue to harm Spain’s homeless population. Additionally, the Spanish economy’s dependence on tourism has led some politicians to enact changes that push homeless people away from popular cities, like Madrid. However, the national government is taking steps to combat homelessness, and this will perhaps inspire mayors and leaders of autonomous communities to follow suit.
– Addison Collins