A Portuguese bishop has warned of a “very serious” housing problem in the country as the Church accompanied the demolition of an ‘illegal’ settlement, Quinta da Parvoíce, in the Lisbon metropolitan city of Setúbal.

– Parish priest: Demolition “like a bombing or an earthquake”

José Ornelas, the Bishop of Setúbal, visited this week the settlement of Quinta da Parvoíce, where according to local parish priest Constantino Alves some “30-something people” were facing the threat of eviction and the destruction of their homes.

That threat finally turned to a partial reality February 28, when authorities moved in to bulldoze some 10 homes in the settlement, some completed and some still under construction.

“They brought the machines in and all that was left was rubble between the still inhabited houses. If the pretext was risk and security, there’s still the same risk and the same insecurity”, denounced Alves.

The parish priest of Nossa Senhora da Conceição said that after the demolition of the homes in Quinta da Parvoíce contemplating the scene was like “seeing the rubble of a bombing or earthquake”.

The settlement was filled with “pain, people screamed, children cried, and saw all their efforts, the small savings, their future houses being reduced to a pile of stones”, said the priest, who also criticised the police force present at the demolition as “disproportionate”.

“It is an enormous suffering for these people, a disenchantment; it is a sadness the way they were treated, as if they were beasts”, decried Alves.

– “Their wages are not enough to pay rent and they have to live”

The residents of Quinta da Parvoíce had been warned that their houses were slated for demolition via notices posted on their doors by the Institute of Housing and Urban Rehabilitation (IHRU).

Local Church authorities appealed to the IHRU on the residents’ behalf to stop the demolitions, but to no avail.

Some houses have been left standing for the moment, for which reason the Diocese of Setúbal and the diocesan Caritas are continuing with their urgent pleas to the IHRU, the City Council and social security agencies to stop the destruction of any more homes.

Alves explained that “about 16 families, some 30 people” live in Quinta da Parvoíce, including people with special needs, elderly people, and cancer patients.

“Above property rights are the human rights of everyone”, stressed the priest, reminding municipal, regional and even national authorities that no public official can “abdicate their responsibility… to find solutions for people to find homes”.

“They are poor people, but they work practically all of them and their wages are not enough to pay rent and they have to live”, Alves explained, adding that he had invited Quinta da Parvoíce residents to “give testimony of what was happening” to the Christian community, so this last could “accompany and embrace this cause” in the Eucharist.

– Bishop: “The more economically fragile are unable to cope with rent costs”

On his visit to the Quinta da Parvoíce community this week, Bishop Ornelas gave the same message as priest Alves, and denounced that people with “more economic fragility are unable to cope with rent costs”, for which reason low-income earners turn to illegal settlements.

These shanty-towns “are precarious and people are not there because they want to be there, they are obliged [to be there]”, Ornela deplored.

“Right now, the housing situation in Portugal, and particularly in this Setúbal Peninsula, is very serious. It has to be faced with creativity in order to find solutions for these people, if we don’t want to create new problems that will be very expensive”, the bishop warned.

“It is necessary to find answers that are dignified for everyone”, Ornelas insisted, recalling that in Setúbal “there is a huge lack of housing which has been sharpening in recent years”.

That’s on top of the other factor “very specific to this region” that are the “seasonal or precarious jobs” on offer in Setúbal with people working for “outsourcing and temping companies” some of which “are unscrupulous companies that exploit people”, the bishop denounced.

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