A Better Life

The lack of housing is a problem throughout the world, and Spain is no exception. Javier, a homeless man from Seville, is the best example of someone who has had bad luck in life and ends up living on the streets. Every morning, he approaches the convent of Santa Isabel de Sevilla to receive his breakfast from the nuns, as well as a bit of hope for the future. His dream? To recover the happy life he had as a child and to create his own family.

It’s nine o’clock in the morning. In front of the large brown doors of the convent of Santa Isabel de Sevilla, men and women form a queue waiting for them to be opened. They come to receive the help offered by the Philippian nuns of the order of the Daughters of Mary Dolorosa, just like every day at this time. Around the convent, the life of the neighborhood unfolds, starring, at this moment, parents and children hurrying to school, and neighbors who stop for a coffee with milk in the Tavern León de San Marcos.

In the queue, the majority are men. Finally, the door opens, and everyone walks in silence towards a small barred window in the corner of the convent courtyard. On the other side, wrapped in shadows, sits a nun who gives each person one or two sandwiches, depending on how hungry they are. In total, between 15 and 40 sandwiches will be distributed today. The requirement to receive one is simple: that the person needs it.         

“And there are many people who need it. There are so many of us who are homeless, living in the streets and sleeping next to the shops…”

Javier is 47 years old and comes every morning to the convent. Today, he arrived at 9:30, waited in the queue for about 10 minutes, talked with the nun in the window for a few moments, and left the convent for the nearby Plaza de Santa Isabel, where has eaten the big ham sandwich he received. Not far from there, in the same neighborhood, is his house: a streetcorner where he keeps a mattress, blankets, and some belongings, and where he has been living since February. He is one of the many homeless people who live in Seville and its surroundings, 500 individuals, according to the 2016 Seville city council census; more than 1000 according to a report from Doctors of the World, who have all arrived at this situation for different reasons. There is the economic crisis suffered in Spain, of course, but also the increase in unemployment, the decrease in income, addiction to alcohol and drugs, or mental disorders. 

Some breadcrumbs from the sandwich have fallen to the ground and several gray and black pigeons swirl at Javier’s feet and fight over them. Unperturbed, he closes his eyes and remains that way for a few moments. Then, he starts to tell his story.

Javier was born in Seville and has lived in this city his whole life. “My childhood was happy. I was the youngest of three brothers, and my parents were good to us: we did not want for anything. My father was a butcher, and our table was always full of delicious foods …” After high school, Javier finished studying and started working right away, but he had great difficulty making money. “It’s because of this disability.” Javier shows his feet, whose ankles are turned inwards leaving the soles of his feet facing each other. “I have clubfeet; I was born with them. And because of this, my options are very limited. In recent years, I’ve had difficulties not just keeping a job, but getting it. “

Walking is difficult for Javier; moving around the city is a problem he faces every day. “Do you see the walks I have to take? And driving is also difficult, so I cannot afford to take a job that is far from here. I need a job that I can easily go to and from that also gives me enough money to live. This is complicated. There are not many options …” The pigeons have not left a single crumb of bread on the ground, moving restlessly between Javier’s feet. He looks at them in silence. Maybe they’re still hungry.

“Also, I’m alone. And so, everything is even more difficult.”

Javier’s parents have died already. And his two older brothers live in the province of Cádiz with their families. They are not as close to him as he would like but, at the same time, he acknowlesges that this way, he is motivated to face his situation on his own, without depending on other people, and to fight every day to have a better future. “Maybe I still have time to start a family, as I always wanted. And to start my own business: a butcher shop, like my father…”

After five years in the street, without a roof to provide shelter and far from the family that remains, Javier could have lost hope, but he hasn’t. “What I would most like is to be happy with myself. In my circumstances, it is almost impossible not to be unhappy. But I know that it was partly me who got myself into this, and just as I got in, I’ll get out as soon as I can.”

Javier gets up and goes to a trash can to throw the sandwich bag away. On the ground, next to the bench, the pigeons peck at invisible crumbs. He looks at the convent of Santa Isabel. “Every act of generosity that I receive brings me closer and closer to a better life. I am very grateful to all those who are helping me…” Javier moves slowly away from the convent, which has already closed its doors. Tomorrow, as every morning, serenaded by the cries of the children running to school, the nuns will open them again and the long queue of homeless men and women will go to their patio to receive their breakfast.

And Javier, again, will be among them.