ALERT: 2,000 Families Squat Near Santiago To Protest Homelessness

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 24 Jul 1999 00:20:21 -0700 (PDT)


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FWD  Origin: ROMAWAS/HABITAT/
     InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)

** Written  9:08 PM  Jul 21, 1999 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **
       Copyright 1999 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
          Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

                      *** 21-Jul-99 ***

Title: HABITAT: Homeless Situation Worsens in Chile

By Gustavo Gonzalez

SANTIAGO, Jul 21 (IPS) - Some 2,000 families have moved onto
vacant lands around Santiago to highlight the plight of the
homeless here and underline the fact that official housing
programmes, while ambitious, are not enough.

The squatters are referred to as ''allegados,'' which in Chile
describes poor families whose income is not enough to buy or rent
housing and who are forced to seek refuge in the homes of
relatives or friends, who give them a place to stay for free or at
a minimal charge.

The latest land seizure in the town of Penalolen, an area in
the east of the capital, coincides with one of the most brutal
winters in recent memory, with polar winds sending the thermometer
down to 3.7 degrees below zero.

Student and professional organisations, like the Medical
College, are offering their solidarity and support to the 2,000
families, who dream of owning their own homes. They are
struggling to survive in rough shacks and tents, where they face
not just intense cold but also the risk of eviction by police.

The occupied lands extend for 22 hectares and are the property
of businessman and sports manager Miguel Nasur who, while not
requesting they be forcibly cleared out, wants a negotiated
solution with the Homeless Committee that represents the families.

The homeless tend to organise themselves into committees that
usually select vacant lands for occupation, where they erect camps
like that in Penalolen in order to pressure authorities to find
low-cost solutions to their housing problems.

The Socio-economic Indicators Survey of the Ministry of
Planning showed that in 1996, there were 746,000 homeless families
in Chile, as well as 942 squatter camps holding 446,000 people.

The government of Eduardo Frei proposed that the housing
deficit be addressed by building 100,000 homes per year, whose
construction would be subsidised by the state and which would be
made available through savings plans.

This number, however, proved to be insufficient, since it is
estimated that 70,000 new homes or family groups come into
existence each year, the majority of whom are among the most
impoverished class, which comprises 3 million Chileans.

The international economic crisis accelerated rising
unemployment and made the housing shortage even more acute, since
thousands of families were forced to dip into their home savings
funds to cover more immediate necessities.

As a result, homeless camps are multiplying in the peripheral
towns of Santiago, where there is more vacant land but also a
greater lack of sewage and urban infrastructure.

In the Penalolen seizure, the committee, called the ''Voice of
Those Without Homes,'' has set up strict rules to address the
community's needs, establishing communal kitchens and a healthcare
clinic for the poorest people, especially the elderly and
children.

The group is headed by Alexis Paredes, an unemployed professor,
and maintains tight discipline to prevent the camp residents from
consuming alcohol or drugs and quarreling with each other.

On Friday, 800 members of ''The Voice of Those Without Homes''
marched into the centre of Santiago, where they plastered some
five blocks around the ''La Moneda'' state palace with posters,
while a delegation dropped off a letter addressed to President
Frei.

The homeless demanded that Frei intervene to solve their
housing problems and denied being in collusion with Nasur, whom
they accused of trying to engage in speculatory practices in the
sale of the lands occupied by the 2,000 families.

The businessman, they indicated, wanted to charge the
equivalent of 50 million dollars for the land, when he had
originally acquired it for less than one million dollars.
(FIN/IPS/ggr/mj/hd/ks/mk/99)

Origin: ROMAWAS/HABITAT/
InterPress Third World News Agency (IPS)

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