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Buenos Aires' Homeless Run Their Own Rehab

A groundbreaking center in Argentina is operated by those it serves.

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Around 900 people live on the streets in
Buenos Aires. Photo via

By May Wilkerson

01/15/13

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A rehabilitation center for the homeless in Buenos Aires, Argentina, is uniquely run and operated by the people it serves. Centro de Integración Monteagudo provides shelter for 110 formerly homeless men, many of whom struggle with addiction, depression and disabilities. Its director, Horacio Avila, 49, started living on the streets after losing his job and home during Argentina's 2001 economic crisis. After one of his companions died of alcoholism, he and some other homeless men decided to organize their own shelter. “We saw many things happen, from drugs and alcohol to the death of Colo, a friend from the street corner,” says Avila. “We realized that it could affect us, and we began to think, ‘We organize ourselves, we do something to change history.’” The men sought funding from institutions including the city legislature and the University of Buenos Aires. By 2011, they'd established an NGO called Proyecto 7, which now directs and funds Monteagudo. The center offers health care, professional training and educational workshops, and unlike the city's government-run homes and shelters, it doesn't impose a time limit on stays, allowing residents a chance to recover fully before they move out on their own.

Also unlike most other shelters, Monteagudo admits people under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Having been homeless themselves, the founders and volunteers can easily relate to the plight of addicts. Diego Enrique Vivanco, 36, says his addictions drove him out of the main shelter system. “Living together was difficult,” he says, “above all because of my problem of addiction to drugs. I found a job and I left the shelter system.” He came to Monteagudo after a relapse, when other shelters wouldn't take him in. Now he attends high school and works part-time at the center, helping to organize food and dispense medications. Along with the other residents, Vivanco attends group assemblies to participate in collective decision-making. “The social intregration is this, to reclaim their own rights, to participate in the decisions,” says Avila. “We wouldn’t have achieved this without effort. We slept badly, we ate badly. But here we are.”

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