Albufeira is one of the most popular tourist towns in the Algarve. However, in such a beautiful place there are also people living without basic living conditions. To support the homeless, there's an association on the ground made up of kind people who really want to help others - without judgement. Its name is CASA (Centro de Apoio ao Sem-Abrigo - Support Centre for the Homeless) and it came into existence 10 years ago in Albufeira.
On arrival at the regional office in Albufeira, there was a small shop where CASA sold clothes and other products. Cátia Pereira, one of the coordinators, first explained that "those who can pay, we charge a small amount to help the association, but those who can't, can just take it for free. We're here to help".
The regional office in Albufeira is one of ten in the country that provides this wonderful support to those hitting rock bottom and has already created an emergency shelter that has given a roof over their head to around 50 people since 2020 - it's a success story.
Sónia Pinto, one of the volunteers and coordinators, with whom I had the pleasure of speaking to, was there from day one. She has been with the association since the day they started working in Albufeira, and although she is a full-time teacher, she remains totally dedicated to the cause.
More people living on the streets
Despite CASA's efforts, the number of people living on the streets has increased. "In terms of homelessness, it has increased a lot, but the homeless population is also different. When I started here at the institution, homeless people were more aggressive," Sónia added.
When I asked them how they had gained the trust of the community, she replied that it was not automatic: "By serving meals, we began to gain the trust of the people. This population began to understand that we were here for them. We don't point the finger, we are here to help. We sit on the floor with them, we eat with them, we have coffee and tea with them. There is no room for discrimination here”.
They serve around 30 to 40 meals a day and can go up to 50 in winter. In addition, they support 70 needy families. "Food is the first step - it's the most basic of basic needs," Cátia said.
However, they go even further. For the homeless people they support, they help them making a life plan in order to get them off the streets and rebuild a new life - from finding out their preferences, making a CV, finding a job, looking for a house, etc.
In 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Albufeira Council and CASA in Albufeira did the impossible. In about two weeks they created the CATE (Centre for Temporary Emergency Shelter), where more than 20 people have already had the opportunity to restart a life with all the necessary support.
"While the government declared a "state of emergency" in the country and told people to protect themselves and stay at home, the homeless people had no home. I met with the team and we decided that we had to find a solution for these people and we were lucky. Actually, I think luck is the watchword in this institution," Sónia told me.
She added: "At the time, we had a volunteer who worked in a hostel, and they rented the hostel to us, run by us and paid by Albufeira Council. And it was in just 20 days, in the middle of the pandemic, that "we managed to open an emergency shelter - it was a very decisive moment! Now that I look back, it seems easy, but those were very difficult days. I remember the first people who came into the shelter. They were afraid, but in their eyes we could see gratitude."
Two years have passed and what was temporary has become almost permanent for many. Many people have managed to get their lives together and find work, a home or return to their family, but many are in limbo: too old to work, but too young to retire.
"We have capacity for 15 people in the shelter and we have a waiting list of three people. Initially it was agreed that the maximum stay would be six months, but then there is no response out here. They are not old enough to go to a nursing home, but they are too old to work," she said.
To make this dream come true, in Albufeira alone, CASA has more than 20 volunteers and 16 people working full-time in the association. Just for the shelter, which is open 24 hours a day, they need a lot of people to fill all the shifts.
However, money remains the most difficult part. In reality, they are a charitable association, so they do not generate any profit, but they have many expenses. So managing all this is not easy.
Basically, all they receive is through funding. They proudly showed me a van with which they go out on the streets and provide various kinds of support, such as mental health support. "We have a mobile unit also through funding," they said.
To get money, they make several applications for funds, but "we are always thinking, when the funding ends, what are we going to do next? For example, one will finishes in December and what will we do next? It's a constant headache”, Cátia pointed out.
How can we help?
According to the National Strategy for the Integration of the Homeless (ENIPSSA), in Portugal there are more than 8,200 people living on the streets.
"People can help by becoming volunteers, through donations of food, clothes and money. Most people don't really like to give money." However, an association also needs money. "We pay for medicines and go with them to visit a doctor when they need it."
In terms of clothing, I was told that men's clothes are the most needed because there are more homeless men than women and as they cannot wash their clothes, they do not last long.
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Paula Martins is a fully qualified journalist, who finds writing a means of self-expression. She studied Journalism and Communication at University of Coimbra and recently Law in the Algarve. Press card: 8252