During last winter, very low temperatures shook Buenos Aires, the Argentinian capital. The thermometer went down and its needle marked just a little bit over zero degrees celsius. It was freezing.
One thousand people are living on the streets of Buenos Aires, in very difficult conditions. That despite the city being the wealthiest part of Argentina, it still has a staggering 1140 people, according to official stats, who are homeless.
In winter, those sleeping rough in Buenos Aires have been known to die from the cold. This happened last July to Sergio Zacarías, who laid down to sleep in one of the sidewalks of the old neighbourhood of San Telmo and never woke up. His body couldn’t withstand the low temperatures and suffered from severe hypothermia.
Dressed in their coats, suits, boots or expensive shoes, many politicians spend their terms debating about what to do with the homeless, how many there are, and whose job it is to deal with them and all the while those like Sergio have their lives at risk on a nightly basis.
However, while the state dithered on how to solve this issue, a glimmer of hope appeared for those sleeping on the streets. By the organisation and coordination of Juan Carr, the football club River Plate (one of the largest in the country) opened the doors to its stadium to provide shelter and food to the homeless.
But, who is Juan Carr? He is an Argentinian entrepreneur who in 1995 founded the social and cultural movement Red Solidaria. Carr´s work through the foundation resulted in him being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize seven times.
Actually, Red Solidaria has 74 locations all around Argentina and more than a thousand active volunteers. In its website, Juan Carr´s movement is eloquent in describing what they do:
“If there was a lost boy somewhere in Argentina, if someone needed a transplant; if there were countless needs in communities of native people; if we had to face ecological conflicts or resolve the situation of those who were living in the street; if a community required schools, or food, or hope, now there was also a huge group of people willing to do the impossible to listen, accompany and try to resolve with them every obstacle and every conflict. […]
It is they who count: those who wait for an opportunity, those who need our encouragement and our commitment. And this is the time for that commitment to be consolidated in a concrete social transformation. The Solidarity Network is a sum of wills in communion with an infinity of needs”.
Politics and elections in Argentina can be known to get quite heated, and as a result, it’s not uncommon for accusations to be bandied about – and there have been accusations objecting to Juan Carr and his work. Members of the ruling party have accused him of using homelessness to score political points for the opposition, accusing a man who always puts the needs of those around him before his own.
“This cold is an invention of the opposition party”, declared a deputy famous for his loose language.
Consulted by the press about these aggressive words, Juan Carr limited his answer to taking about the upcoming night (one of the coldest), where Red Solidaria was going to be distributing blankets and coats for homeless people in River Plate’s stadium.
After the experience of this scheme in the River Plate stadium and with Carr’s management, a further 20 clubs opened their doors to give homeless a warm place to spend the winter nights and asked the public for food and clothes donations.
Criticism did not cease and more politicians accused Carr of working for the opposition and not helping in a genuine way.
The reality is that after Carr’s intervention no further people died from the cold in Buenos Aires this year. Yet another time he has helped those in need without expectation of any recognition or reward to the long list.