Friday, October 27, 2023

Buenos Aires Airport Becomes Unofficial Homeless Shelter


The Jorge Newbery International Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina, has become a makeshift homeless shelter for many people who are struggling to make ends meet due to the country’s high inflation rate. The airport, known as Aeroparque, is home to around 100 people who sleep inside the facility and spend their days either at soup kitchens or begging for change at traffic lights. Some of them blend in with the travellers, sitting in chairs and waiting for their next meal. The airport has become a stark reflection of the rising poverty in Argentina, where the poverty rate rose to 39.2% of the population in the second half of 2022, an increase of three percentage points from the first six months of the year.

Angel Gomez, who has been living in the airport for two years, has seen how the number of people joining him has soared since the pandemic. He said that after the pandemic, the airport became a total invasion. More and more Argentinians are finding themselves in this situation as inflation worsens, rising to an annual rate of 102.5% in February. Although Argentina has been used to double-digit inflation for years, that was the first time the annual rise in consumer prices reached triple digits since 1991. The high inflation has been especially pronounced for basic food items, hitting the poor the hardest.

Roxana Silva, who has been living at the airport with her husband for two years, said that if she pays rent, she doesn’t eat, and if she pays for food, she’s on the street. Silva gets a government pension of about 45,000 pesos, which is equivalent to about $213 at the official exchange rate and about half of that on the black market. She laments that she doesn’t have enough to live on and that she and her husband take turns sleeping so someone is always watching their possessions.

The poverty rate among children under age 15 increased more than three percentage points to 54.2%. Horacio Avila, who runs an organisation devoted to helping homeless people, estimated the number of people without a roof in Argentina’s capital has soared 30% since 2019, when he and others carried out an unofficial count of 7,251 people in this city of approximately 3.1 million. Amid the increased cost of living and diminishing purchasing power, more people started to look to the airport as a possible refuge.

Laura Cardoso has seen this increase firsthand in the year she has been living in the airport, “sleeping sitting up” in her wheelchair. She said that more people just came in and that it’s packed with people. Mirta Lanuara is a new arrival, living in the airport only about a week. She chose the airport because it is clean. Teresa Malbernat, 68, has been living in the airport for two months and said it is safer than being in one of the city’s shelters, where she said she was robbed twice.

The Argentinian company that operates the airport, AA2000, has said it “lacks police power” and “the authority to evict these people” while also saying it has the obligation to ensure “non-discrimination in the use of airport facilities”. For Elizabet Barraza, 58, the sheer number of homeless people living in the airport illustrated why she was choosing to emigrate to France, where one of her daughters has been living for five years. She said that she’s going there because the situation in Argentina is difficult and that her salary isn’t enough to rent. Even if they increase the salaries, inflation is too high so it isn’t enough sometimes to rent and survive. She doesn’t want to come back.

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