I first contacted the "Comunidade Vida e Paz" organization around mid-December. The volunteers distribute 600 meals every night to the needy, most of them are homeless. The food distribution is more of a pretext to reach out and talk to them and give advice. The main objective of this orgainzation is to get homeless people off the streets through social reintegration programs. Around 25 volunteers split up into four groups that travel around different parts of Lisbon in vans. In the middle of Christmas frenzy I tagged along with the volunteers on some of their routes through the Portuguese capital. A typical night would start by meeting at their offices at 8:00 p.m. and end around 2:00 a.m. I rode in the vans with an array of volunteers, ranging from young people, unemployed, retired, peace activists, security guards, etc. A figure that surprised me was that apart from the 400 active volunteers, there is a list of some 500 more volunteers ready should they be needed to help. From the first night it was evident that the volunteers were on a first name basis with the homeless, they knew their names, their stories... I thought that through the volunteers it would be easier for me to approach them and tell them what type of story I wanted to do.
I wanted to get the reader closer in to them, eye to eye. It seems to me that most people try to avoid looking at beggars, somehow trying to avoid their presence. We think that looking the other way will make the reality go away. Therefore I wanted my pictures to be straightforward, to give them a chance to look straight into our eyes without any chance of avoiding it. Since it was the end of December, apart from taking pictures I brought along an audio recorder and asked them awhat Christmas meant to them. They spoke about Christmas and their problems. Those six nights were unforgettable for what I saw and heard from them.
Beggars have been around throughout the history of mankind. There are references to beggars in a multitude of ancient writings. It is nothing new, just an old problem that has gained strength lately. In the last five years the numbers of beggars in the European Union has been on the rise. In Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal the problem has multiplied and extended through parts of society which were immune up till now. Home owners who have lost their jobs and can no longer pay their mortgages. While covering this story I was able to confirm with my own eyes this increase documented in the latest study by a federation of organizations that work with homeless in the EU. I saw homeless people that belongn to a new class of beggars. People that have lost their jobs and everything they own. People who a year ago were living a normal life and somehow fell on the wrong side of luck. People who are in disbelief about the nightmare they are now living. Thanks to them I understand that the fine line that separates our comfortable lives with those of homeless can be thinner than one could imagine.
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