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Within a block of buildings, a small courtyard gathers four blocks of flats stuck together in a square shape. It is one of the residential centers that the Caritas organization has in Madrid. Temporary accommodation for people in a situation of social exclusion.

A woman comes down from one of the houses. “Hello, Juana,” greets the center’s psychologist. “Hello, you know that they have saved my life,” she replies nervously. She lived with her parents, the family business went bankrupt, they left the city and left her alone in Madrid with her three-month-old son. In ten days he changed houses 4 times. In 6 months, eight. The pandemic has increased the gender gap and social exclusion has more than doubled in households whose main breadwinner is a woman, according to the Caritas report published this week.

After several months from house to house, and suffering the mistreatment of her son’s father, Caritas found Juana. “I entered a flat as a occupant and, without knowing it, the owner, who had passed away, had left half her inheritance to the Red Cross and the other half to Cáritas,” she explains. It was then that they entered the house, saw his situation and offered to go to the residential center. There they have given him psychological help and have even taught him “what the Tiger is”. “I still have to heal, but thanks to Cáritas I am a different person,” she expresses with emotion.

Since it was seen on the street, nearly five years have passed. Despite this, during this time he has had to watch as “a security guard” chased him when he entered a supermarket “in case he was going to steal”, or he has had to “endure the comments of the mothers of other children” when he has gone to Pick up your son at school. A son who is the most important thing for her: “I don’t want him to have the life I’ve had.”

During the pandemic, at which time she has felt “very alone”, a group of five nuns who also live in the Cáritas flats have been helping her. “On Christmas Eve they invited me to dinner at their house. For me it was something new because I had been with other types of people. It was a quiet, beautiful and harmonious Christmas. They are very good because they know how to listen.”

Despite how well she feels there, Juana dreams of having a house that is hers, but with the 800 euros of income she has a month it is impossible. For this reason, from Cáritas, they help him with the procedures to obtain a public housing flat.

Although Sonia Chicote, a psychologist at the center, explains that the idea is not “I’ll put you in a flat and that’s it”: “There is no determinant that makes a person leave a situation of exclusion. They are a set of factors. It is not easy. Residential centers are a way to stop, for a while, from taking care of basic needs, like housing, so you can focus on others.”

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