BOGOTA – In 2014, Jose left Spain and arrived in Bogota where he has spent the last four years living on the streets and using “basuco,” a raw cocaine paste typically smoked through a pipe.
He is one of 10,000 homeless people living on the streets of the Colombian capital.
“Why would I return to Spain? I have nothing and nobody left there,” Jose told EFE.
Jose, who describes himself as a musician, left Valencia, on the eastern Spanish coast, when his parents died.
Colombian Luis Alexander Alvarado, 46, became a drug addict 23 years ago and has been living on the street for seven years.
When Alvarado was 18 he left his town and family behind to arrive in Bogota where he wanted to finish his High School studies.
One night, during a party, he tasted basuco for the first time and his life changed forever.
“Months later I had no direction in life. I started to do it as something personal, as a form of escapism. It arrived in my life and caught me, put me on the street, under a bridge, digging in the trash,” Alvarado said.
Life gave him a second chance when the Blue Angels, a group of care workers who help homeless people and drug addicts, found him.
Alvarado now lives in a shelter called “El Camino.”
“There is an active search team that goes to bridges, railway platforms, “ollas” (urban drug markets), a team dedicated to non-permanent homes, a psychosocial support team, one that works in the reception centers where the internal process is done and, finally, a team that acts as a link once they leave the program,” said Raul Ortiz, coordinator at “El Camino” shelter.
“I’m here because the street hit me very hard.
“I came to recover what I lost, to recover sociability and self-esteem, to recover myself and my family, whom I lost after so many years on the streets,” Alvarado added.
The former drug addict will stay at the shelter for between 9 and 11 months as finding a job and socialization are the final goals of the rehabilitation program.
He hopes to recover lost time with this 25-year-old son.
The only reason to look back on his past will be to avoid falling back into the trap of addiction, he added.
“Now I have a clear future ahead, with my son and my family.
“I have been in contact with them since I started in the program.
“Thanks to psychologists I have been able to regain contact with them.”
The program has a varied training offer and Alvarado chose the audiovisual communication path.
Blue Angels work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and most of Bogota’s homeless community know who they are.
“They are usually under the effect of a psychoactive drug.
“However, we’re well-received, they say hello and call us ‘teachers’,” Oscar Velandia, one Blue Angel coordinator, told EFE.
“I have learned not to complain so much, to value food and what I have, to be more humble and, above all, more sensitive.”
So far this year, 7,169 homeless people have been looked after in shelters under Bogota’s Secretary for Social Integration.
A total of 2,323 have taken part in a rehabilitation program to improve their lives and 633 of them are now off the streets.