A homeless man finds shelter in the alcoves of the dalt Vila, Ibiza 2005.

“Ibiza has 61,764 empty beds this Christmas. Ibiza also has homeless people. There is something appalling and obscene about that”.

  • Editorial. Text and Photo by Nick Gibbs

Come Christmas Day, Lydie-Anne and Danny Hampson, along with their band of helpers, will be cooking a traditional Christmas dinner for Ibiza’s homeless and hungry. Though the 2020 version of their long established Christmas day routine will be a very different one due to the restrictions of the pandemic, they have ‘found a way’ and will be delivering around 40 meals packaged up as take-away food and delivered with the assistance of some of those who are or have been homeless themselves. Who better to know who needs the meal and where to find them?

How wonderful of people to devote some of their own Christmas to those less fortunate. The Hampsons and Co are not alone. On our island where generosity of spirit and community support are already plentiful, it feels that the tribulations of 2020 have generated even more desire to give. The established charitable programmes and fundraisers at Christmas have been swelled further with several new initiatives.

Ibiza has 61,764 empty beds this Christmas. Ibiza also has homeless people. It is appalling and obscene. Editorial.
Ibiza has 61,764 empty beds this Christmas. Ibiza also has homeless people. It is appalling and obscene. Editorial.

Those coming to mind include the La Cantina Food Drives, the Reverse Advent Calendar, Markets at the Hub, the Christmas Toy Drive and the Big Christmas Raffle. Just a month or two ago one of our own readers donated 1,500€ to an Ibiza Food Bank to allay fears of a threatened fine. All of these are supporting those facing poverty and in some cases homelessness. Everybody involved in organising or supporting these events should take a bow, outstanding effort.

In fundraising terms, it makes good sense to work at Christmas. People are at their most giving and caring, we all want to help where we can. But I feel sure the organisers of all these events would agree in the need to be mindful that though poverty at Christmas may come with extra barbs, there is no real difference in the feeling of hunger, or of cold, or of fear, be it November 10th, February 3rd or December 25th.

Ibiza’s homeless have always been around. I took this photo in the Dalt Vila in 2005. It is a subject matter I have always found as compelling as it is uncomfortable.

I got to thinking on the plight of Ibiza’s homeless and hungry last Sunday during a family outing to Ibiza’s Winter Fair and Christmas Market. Anybody who enjoys the people watching pleasures of the string of cafes and bars that border the Placa de Parc in Ibiza Town will know that during any leisurely stay you are likely to be approached with a plea for a few euros. Sometimes the request may be accompanied by an explanation of the pressing need of food or drink, or perhaps a bus or shelter.  Sometimes the request will be via assumption and an outstretched hand, the entire interaction completed in silence. Sometimes the request may provoke pity, sometimes suspicion, and perhaps if it happens too often, sometimes annoyance and frustration.

On this Sunday my mulled wine was still too hot to drink when the first approach came. My own Christmas spirit supressed any cynical doubts I may have had if the same, ever so slightly too slick, approach had been made in May. Whether homeless or grifter he had the first couple of euros from my pocket. It wasn’t long after that a second approach came from a young woman in whom I had no such doubts of the genuine nature of her plight. A beaming smile was the centre of someone who came across as a bright light, a positive person.

Our modest donation was happily given and warranted no explanation, however she felt the need to explain her situation and the past circumstances that had come to pass resulting in her standing here in front of us on the December day in Ibiza asking for money. Bless her. The more she explained, the more the thought process unravelled. Her timeline was confused and looping, her points of emphasis and recollection were surreal. It had the sound of a tale that had been told a thousand times, yet in her mind there was still something hugely important that needed to be said.  She wasn’t annoying, or wild. She just said what she wanted to say for as long as she wanted to say it, full of smiles throughout, and when she decided she had said what she wanted to say, we exchanged goodbyes and she left.

Another thing she had about her was a certain look of cold that homeless people often have. Shoulders hunched up, arms close to their body and a slight but permanent shiver.

She was a person few of us would be so cold hearted to condemn as being the cause of her own problems. This was a young woman every bit as ill through mental health as a person with some physical limitation. She was a woman who finds our normal impossible. What we take for granted as the normal day to day interaction with the world around us, she finds complicated, unforgiving, and ultimately unsuccessful.

She was somebody’s daughter. How would any of us feel if our own child, unable to cope with the world around them, was on the streets, homeless and hungry?

The undeniable fact is that poverty in Ibiza strikes a particularly harsh juxtaposition against the backdrop of our island’s glamour and riches. Poverty in Ibiza serves to remind us of the extremity of the difference in the circumstances and comfort we find ourselves. One popular spot for the island homeless is under the protective arches of the Montessol Hotel, a vantage point that affords views over Billion Euro superyachts in Port Magna, the most expensive berth in the entire Mediterranean.

I get the arguments for encouraging self-help, I can see the resentment of those who feel financial support will come from their taxes and have the effect of reducing incentive, there are many arguments of those who feel we should not help that I can understand if not agree with. But there are some people for whom these arguments can never apply. People who do not have the luxury of deciding whether they will work today, people who cannot get past the most basic tasks of surviving in a cruel world.

Surely there must be something fundamentally wrong with a society, our society, in which the mentally ill can be abandoned in this way. Why don’t we care? Why do we allow it? Perhaps it is because we allow them to become invisible against a backdrop of what we see as those undeserving and feckless homeless who are responsible for their own downfall.

My mulled wine accompanied my mulling in welcome sips. In front of me was the Hostal del Parque, which incidentally looked amazing draped in icicle lights. Then it occurred to me. It is not as if it is new information, it has always been this way. I expect other people have thought the same, but I had never considered it in these very simple terms; homelessness in an overcrowded city is one thing, but how can there be homelessness in Ibiza during the winter months when there are thousand upon thousand of beds, warm comfortable and safe beds, all empty and unused?

Later in the week I found myself looking up the actual numbers as collated by the Balearic Government. In the summer of 2019 Ibiza had a total of 62,827 beds available in its hotels. However, in November and December only 1,063 beds are available for the use of our small winter market and business travellers.

This means that 61,764 beds are there, they still exist in physical form, but they are unused and empty.

How can an island so affluent, so successful, have 61,764 empty beds, yet allow there to be homeless people on its streets?

The more I have thought about that one fact, the more appalling and obscene it feels. And if it feels that way to me, how must it feel to a homeless person? How must it feel to live in a society that is prepared to let you sleep under a cardboard box with fear in your heart and hunger in your belly, whilst all around you there are thousand upon thousand, in our case sixty one thousand, empty beds, unwanted and unused? How can it be?

 

A grim editorial with none of the festive cheer more typical from my desk as we go into Christmas. Sorry about that, but it is something I felt a need to write.

Wishing all of our readers, advertisers and contributors in Ibiza and around the world a very Merry Christmas.