Arturo, Lino, Magdalena: the homeless people sleeping through the cold front in the capital

Arturo closes his eyes during the day and at night he opens them to walk through the streets of Mexico City while he doesn’t stop drinking. Magdalena Domínguez sleeps sheltered under a false ceiling in the Zona Rosa among the rings and mirrors that she sells. Lino Flores and his partner, Blanca Olivia, have a cardboard structure to deflect the freezing wind of the night. In the middle of the cold front, the more than 6,000 people who live on the streets of the capital spend one of the worst times of the year due to the low temperatures, which leave numerous victims of hypothermia every year.

The common link between the stories of these homeless people is the Parish of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, small next to the tall buildings on Reforma Avenue. César Cárdenas, head of Sant’Egidio in Mexico, a secular association that develops social programs internationally, explains the complexity of the daily lives of the people he helps: “The drama of someone who is on the street is complex. Sometimes they make up a name or create one. Their personality is more attached to what they have experienced on the street than when they had another life.”

A person shelters from the cold on Jalapa Street, in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, on December 6.
A person shelters from the cold on Jalapa Street, in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, on December 6.Ana Chirino

Arturo is a 24-year-old young man who invented a fictitious name so as not to give his own. He is not in his house because of his addictions. “I am an alcoholic and a drug addict, I made bad decisions and I lost my entire family,” he assumes. To avoid the cold, he sleeps during the day and walks the avenues at night, he says with a sling that supports his left hand, which is quite purple. They tried to stab him for a drink of alcohol and when he fell he dislocated his hand.

-Why do you tell all this?

-It relieves me, because sometimes it makes me want to cry.

The common point of many people who sleep on the street is that they usually come from dysfunctional families. Arturo, son of a Salvadoran woman and a man from Guerrero, was sentenced to nine years in prison for the murder of two sisters, ages 3 and 14, when he was 16. The young man says that that night, in that house in Ixtapaluca, he did not commit the crimes. homicides. He accuses the father of a friend of his who accompanied him to prison.

He spent nine years in prison and married the lawyer who defended him. They had a daughter, who is now three years old. Due to problems with alcohol and drugs, his wife kicked him out of the house. And he won’t come back unless he goes to a rehab center again.

A person sleeps on the sidewalk on Génova Street, in the Juárez neighborhood.
A person sleeps on the sidewalk on Génova Street, in the Juárez neighborhood.Ana Chirino

In Mexico City, the latest available estimate, from 2018, counted 6,754 people “members of street populations.” Only 3 in 10 were in shelters. Cárdenas says the situation worsened after the pandemic. Before covid-19 they gave 70 meals. In 2023 the line outside the whitish-walled church is about 350 homeless people. The worst are the profiles of those who come to put something in their mouths. “The number of people of productive age, between 20 and 50 years old, increased a lot,” he details.

So that they can combat cold fronts like the one that is hitting the capital these days, Sant’Egidio distributes blankets, pants and jackets so that homeless people can sleep a little better on the sidewalks.

On Mondays and Wednesdays, on Genova Street, volunteers pour a thick nutritional supplement into Coca-Cola bottles, yogurt cups or any container brought by those in line. At the end a cake and a jelly awaits them. A very different dinner than the one they will have on Christmas Day if they go to the Sant’Egidio headquarters. “Holidays are the cruelest for people who live on the streets. That’s why we organized a meal on the 24th,” explains Cárdenas.

A woman shelters from the cold on a sidewalk on Paseo de la Reforma.
A woman shelters from the cold on a sidewalk on Paseo de la Reforma.Ana Chirino

The coordinator sees many familiar faces every Christmas Eve. “What someone normally does at home, like showering, watching TV or having fun, they do on the street. Little by little, a person’s face loses its dignity. Instead of finding a way out, they find roots in the street,” he explains.

Lino Flores and Blanca Olivia have been living without a roof for more than 25 years. The 54-year-old man from the capital and the Oaxacan woman, who does not want to say her age, have been dating for “a long time.” To combat the cold they have a small cardboard frame near the Salto del Agua metro station. “Protects from the wind. In addition, a teacher from the Vizcaína school gave me a blanket,” explains Flores with a hat and gloves that protect him from the cold.

The couple is dedicated to collecting plastic bottles. “For each kilo they give us about 4.50 pesos,” the man reveals. When they met, the situation was very different. “We worked together cleaning at the SAT [Servicio de Administración Tributaria] from Hidalgo. “So I told a classmate ‘Hey, what’s up with your friend’?” explains Flores. They were then separated, but met again at another location. Even when they were still working in the offices, they had to go live on the streets.

Lino Flores, on Salto del Agua Avenue, in Mexico City.
Lino Flores, on Salto del Agua Avenue, in Mexico City. Ana Chirino

One of the people who is not in line at the church is Magdalena Domínguez. She is one of the more than 860 women who live on the streets, a situation that men normally suffer. Almost 9 out of 10 homeless people are male.

Domínguez works and sleeps under the outside roof of a public office in the Zona Rosa. Laughing, she says that she is 48 years old, and has been on the street for more than 30 years. With several jackets on his legs, he believes that in October it is colder. “I was looking for a job, I found it, they fired me and then they didn’t,” he describes himself because he lives on the street.

To eat every day he sells colored rings, mirrors or lighters. She is one of those many people who came from outside to the capital for work, in this case from Izúcar de Matamoros, in Puebla, and ended up sleeping on the street. At night, she protects herself with two blankets.

Estimates from the NGO El Caracol, whose mission is the visibility of street populations, estimate that between 2018 and 2023, 3,599 homeless people died throughout the country. A figure that has increased in the last three years, after the pandemic. Nearly 200 people have died from hypothermia, a risk on cold winter days.

Cárdenas ends with his own reflection after many years of helping these people: “We are full of prejudices. ‘This is a drunk, a drug addict, he chose to live like this.’ To care for people on the streets you need very human and very personalized work, and public policies escape that. In the end it is a task of the Government, but also of society.”

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