By Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira

LISBON (Reuters) – With tears running down her face, 48-year-old Rita Moreira sat next to the tiny tent where she has lived for over a month in one of Lisbon’s main arteries and from where she is being forced to move.

Last week, Moreira and others sleeping rough on the Almirante Reis Avenue, one of the longest and busiest in Lisbon, were told they had until Wednesday, July 12, to pack their belongings and leave or risk being removed.

They believe the decision, which they blame on Lisbon’s city council, is related to a visit by Pope Francis to the Portuguese capital to attend the World Youth Day global gathering of young Catholics next month.

“They (city council) are sweeping the homeless under the rug,” said Moreira, who is in poor health. “That’s what they’re doing to us – they’re hiding us.”

It would not be the first time homeless people are removed for such events. In 2015, the Philippines’ government came under fire after it admitted relocating homeless people temporarily during Francis’ visit.

The city council said it was carrying out several “interventions” across the city, but vehemently denied they were being done because of Francis’ visit, saying homeless people were often directed to shelters.

It said its aim was always to protect vulnerable people.

Francis has previously spoken out for homeless people and established the World Day of the Poor in 2016.

Homeless charity Comunidade Vida e Paz said the council asked its street team to inform homeless people on Almirante Reis and the nearby Regueirao dos Anjos area their tents and belongings were to be removed.


According to the charity, homeless people were given the option to go to a shelter, but Moreira and others said the conditions there were “horrible”.

The city council said it strives to provide accommodation solutions to homeless people.

The headquarters of Portugal’s People-Animals-Nature (PAN) party are located on Almirante Reis and various homeless people live at the building’s doorstep.

PAN questioned the city council last week about the issue, asking why it was so urgent to remove homeless people’s tents and belongings and if it was related to Francis’ visit. It is yet to receive a reply.

“It is not by hiding (homelessness) during the World Youth Day – and let’s hope that’s not the case – that we will solve the problem of poverty in our country,” said PAN’s head Ines Sousa Real.

Sousa Real said it was urgent to implement measures to help people cope with the ongoing housing crisis, which is pushing many into the streets.

Marcio Achega, 31, has been homeless for two years and even though he works in the construction sector he is struggling to find an affordable home.

“They want to clean up (the city’s) face because someone… who is very important will come here,” Achega said. “If they want to forcibly remove us because of the Pope, they have to give us a house.”

(Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira; Editing by Sharon Singleton)

Brought to you by