In addition to the high number of people infected by COVID-19 and the pressure this is placing on the Portuguese national health staff, the pandemic is impacting seriously and increasingly on the many vital charities helping those in need of palliative care, the homeless living on the streets, and also families with insufficient food to put on their tables.
This state of affairs is worrying though understandable because it is due in many cases to COVID restrictions causing insufficient volunteers or donations.
Based in the western Algarve, Madrugada, is an outstanding hospice service that provides free palliative care for those wishing to remain at home. Madrugada recognises that it’s a person’s right to choose where they would preferred to be cared for during their last remaining days, and where they would prefer to die.
Their end-of-life home services have continued during the pandemic, but have been made more difficult by a shortage of volunteers to staff their charity shops upon which Madrugada heavily rely. Because of advancing years or health issues, many of the shop volunteers have had to limit their exposure to the public during the pandemic. Additionally, precautions are needed for staff assisting patients and for family members who do not live locally and have had tremendous difficulties in travelling to the Algarve to be with their loved ones in their final days.
We will be reporting more on Madrugada in the weeks ahead.
Surveys have shown that Portugal has well over 8,000 people living rough, more than half on the streets of the Lisbon metropolitan area. More than 80% of them are men. The total number of homeless rose substantially after the 2008 recession and again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds have been given sheltered accommodation, but shelters are not able to cope with the rising number of homeless nationwide. This is despite a law passed in 2019 that placed the responsibility on the government to provide adequate housing for citizens.
As the international Borgen Project points out, the government is working with NGOs to alleviate - and try to eliminate - housing problems. In some cases this has provided people with access to independent apartments in Lisbon and elsewhere while offering support services to meet specific individual requirements. Street teams of medical volunteers backed by funding from public and private resources give health care to the homeless. The Lisbon city council has pledged to spend €14.5 million and make 400 new homes available by 2023.
The Knomea Global Hunger Index shows that before the pandemic the percentage of undernourished people was 2.5% of the total population. Things have got much worse. Studies conclude that the pandemic has pushed about 400,000 more Portuguese people below the poverty line. Job losses in the past two years have meant that many more low-income and even middle-income families are unable to pay for sufficient meals.
A large number of national and local organisations are dedicated to minimising hunger or risk of hunger. The Federation of Food Banks Against Hunger conduct regular campaigns to collect, package and distribute tons of meals through associates. The campaigns were interrupted by the pandemic in May 2020, but back on track last November with volunteers standing outside supermarkets awaiting donations of healthy foodstuffs.
The Portuguese branch of the international ReFood movement, started in Portugal 10 years ago, now has more than 60 centres across the country working to “rescue good food to stop waste and help local communities.” It’s run entirely by volunteers that currently number about 8,000. Together with 2,500 partner enterprises, they deliver 150,000 meals per month.
Rather than looking back at the COVID impact difficulties, Portuguese charities are trying to keep one step ahead in case things worsen.