Thursday begins for Pablo (58 years old) at 9.30, in a nook and cranny of Madrid Airport. He has spent the whole night there, although he does not expect any flights. The head of its bed is a 10-meter glass with panoramic views of the south runway, where a plane takes momentum to take off. He stretches and scratches his eyes still swollen from drowsiness. He folds, without eagerness, the two blankets that make the mattress, before going to the toilet like someone who goes from his room to the bathroom. This homeless man – and at least thirty others – have turned terminal four of Barajas into their home. It has been his home for almost two years. It has great advantages given its poor condition: it is a safe place, well conditioned in summer and winter, spacious, bright and somewhat friendly ... Meet the policemen guarding the complex Why an airport and not a hostel with the right to bed and board? There they can come and go at any time, there are no social workers to control attendance and they can drink beer or smoke when the body so orders.
The inhabitants of this cosmopolitan neighborhood have established, amid the frenzy of tourists and suitcases, a routine that gravitates around the airport and the adjoining neighborhood of Barajas. They have no clock other than the biological one, so the day begins when abstinence dictates the time of the first cigarette. Few think about coffee and morning toast. Instead, they long for canes and tobacco. An old acquaintance of Pablo's, who prefers not to say his name, confesses: "Until I have a beer, I can't be a person."
About thirty homeless people have made Madrid airport their home.Juan José Martínez
Once the blankets are collected, Pablo arranges his few belongings in one of the carts reserved for the transport of suitcases and leaves the terminal in search of a cigarette. He limps slightly because his toes were amputated: "They froze from the snow during Storm Philomena." On the way he greets several neighbors, alsonewly raised, of different nationalities. A Bulgarian begs in sloppy Spanish: "Money to eat. Four children, Bulgaria," he says, while ringing in his hand several coins that do not add up to two euros. Everyone knows each other, Paul says, but it's not all friendship. "Some steal from us," he says, giving the example of an acquaintance who had a carton of wine and two packages of sausages taken away a couple of nights ago.
Pablo wears striped fabric pants, halfway between the hips and thighs, a tracksuit and sneakers that seem to fit him big. His beard, white by nature, but blackened by carelessness, frames a rusty mustache that betrays a long-standing dependence on tobacco.
The account of his life is a chain of missteps: "I worked years ago with a cousin in Leganés, but he stole from me. I got hooked on heroin and cocaine," he says, while lighting a cigarette butt he has chosen from the public ashtray. After wandering unsuccessfully through halfway homes and rehabilitation centers, he settled at the airport. "It's warm, you don't get cold and we take food from the cafeterias," he says.
A person sleeps in terminal four of Madrid's Adolfo Suárez Airport.Juan José Martínez
If they do not cause problems, no one can remove them from the air terminal because it is a public place and even the guards seem satisfied. "The only thing that can be annoying is that they ask travelers for money," says a policeman making the rounds. "Except for some fights between them," the officer continues, they do not consider it a problem for homeless people to take shelter there. Pablo endorses the good relationship with the agents: "We get along well with them: if we see each other, we greet each other."
During the day, Pablo and his colleague wander around the Barajas neighborhood: "We sneak into the subway, ask for some money and go for wine," says this man who, he calculates, can survive on less than 15 euros a day, leisure included. "What we spend is on wine, food we order here." When he wants to clean himself, he pays 50 cents for a public shower in the Embajadores neighborhood.
A homeless person wakes up in front of the Hello Sky hotel, where a night costs more than 200 euros. Juan Jose Martinez
A few meters from the place where Pablo woke up, on the second floor of T4, a man is looking for life in a garbage container, from which he extracts a banana and half a glass of soda. Try your luck with some travelers from whom you ask for a cigarette. After a couple of failed attempts, he succeeds. He decides to call himself Javier, like his brother, ―he does not want his name published―. He is 52 years old, the last one has been spent at the Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport. He doesn't remember how long he has lived on the street – "more or less since 2018" – nor the cause of the scratches on his forehead – "I guess I was sleeping on a bench and I fell". Your memory loss can be measured by the times you ask the same question. Of course, he recites from memory his aunt's phone, where he goes to eat occasionally; and the number of Calle de Guzmán el Bueno, where he sees his social worker.
Javier already has stripes of experience on his forehead, matching his white hair. They have a graying beard with golden overtones and a mustache blackened by the daily pack that is smoked and that has destroyed his teeth. He wears a white tracksuit – white is a saying – faded black trousers and brown ankle boots of gnawed suede. His hands shake compulsively and his balance fails, so he avoids the escalators and takes the elevator. He doesn't remember when he last ate, but he thinks it was two days ago. "I don't know how I survived, I must be stronger than I think," he will say minutes later. The negative perception of health is a feeling shared by 44% of homeless people, according to the latest survey conducted by the National Institute of Statistics (INE) to this population.
Javier was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and, consequently, favored with a non-contributory pension administered by a social worker: "They give me a weekly payment of 50 euros with which I do not arrive even on the third day," he reproaches. The last house he had was the one he lived in with his mother. When she died in 2015, he sold the property, but he wasn't prepared to amass such an amount of money. "I spent more than 50,000 euros in a year and a half, sleeping in hotels and eating in expensive restaurants," he confesses. Without inheritance and without a home, he devoured his life in a vicious circle that turned like a dog that wants to bite its tail: "At first, I lowered the antidepressants with alcohol," he recalls. Over time, he replaced liquor with hashish, which he ended up leaving "thanks to coca." When he could not afford his appetites, he returned to cheap liquor, "but to the beast."
'Javier' sleeps in a corner of the second floor of Barajas airport.Juan José Martínez
People living atBarajasairportare just a handful among the 4,146 homeless registered in Madrid, a population that has grown by 17% in the last decade, according to INE figures. 43% of this group has survived without a roof for more than three years. The Rais Foundation, which works for the abolition of homelessness, warns of an under-registration of at least 30%, because the official count excludes those, like Pablo and Javier, who do not use the assistance centers established by the Government.
The wanderers of T4 have found in this place, awarded the most prestigious architecture prize in the United Kingdom, a place isolated from the hostile temperatures and dangers of the street. Javier likes this place "because there are security cameras, a police station and also do not put obstacles to be". Years ago, some guys whom he remembers as "" hit him on the head without a word and for no reason. This itinerant neighborhood is equipped with a bathroom 24 hours a day, drinking water, a metro station and some tourists willing to give an alms for bread. or at least a cigarette.
For the tenants of the Barajas, this place of passage is the stage where life takes place, a panorama of surreal contrasts where their rags rub with designer dresses and their slow walk flows with the busy swing of passengers. They have learned to live in a place where everyone hates waiting. It is here that they spend time under the roar of the Boeing or the Airbus in whose steel bellies nest holiday dreams or new beginnings, although for them, perpetual observers of takeoffs and landings, there is no destination in sight that allows them to take flight.
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Report on homeless people at Barajas airport.Juan José Martínez
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