José Carlos González, 65, retired a few months ago. He was a teacher of Vocational Training. He tries, but is unable to remember the official name of the degree he taught. He looks disoriented, his eyes are watery and ash is accumulating in his ears. “I have been crying like a machango (a child) for days, but yesterday’s downturn was too much and I had to come to the psychologist,” he says at the door of the Casa Massieu, the office of attention to the victims that has been mounted in the south of the municipality of Los Llanos de Aridane, on La Palma. He has an obsession: every night when he goes to bed, he mentally goes through every corner of his house, the wooden shelves that he carved himself, his grandson’s crib, the objects in his living room. Three weeks ago, lava crushed his 380-square-meter home. The work of a lifetime. “My home was my world, with my avocados. The damn volcano has finished with everything in a moment ”. Like him, 300 families have already passed through this place to request a new home from the Canarian Government, either because they have lost their home or because they have been evacuated. Many others have come to this office from where other types of aid are also centralized, from economic to psychological support.
The reception of those who come to tell their story is done with care. The operations center is an old mansion with an interior patio through which stairs and wooden passages climb. All very spacious and with lots of natural light. In the waiting room, faces of defeat, of lack of vital energy. The social workers come out to greet them and escort them to rooms where they can talk without anyone listening. The first thing is always to ask them how they are and, if they burst into tears or cannot express themselves, there is a group of psychologists who attend to them right there. Esther Cabrera, 60, is one of the social workers. “They are in an unstable situation of helplessness. You see in their eyes that when they have to speak it is difficult for them, they have to breathe. We try to create a conversation, not to become an interrogation ”. His partner Carolina Torrero, 48, says that many of those who arrive – they have already interviewed 300 families out of a total of 7,000 evacuated people – built their houses with their hands. “They were settled and were beginning to enjoy retirement. They have been misplaced ”.
That mental journey that José Carlos makes has an explanation. “It is the denial of the duel, they are unable to say goodbye to it and they go through it mentally. They can’t accept it, it hurts too much, ”explains Laura Uriarte, an office psychologist. To lift their spirits, he tells them how their ancestors built houses after ancient eruptions, reminds them that making wooden furniture goes with them, which is almost a family rite that has passed through several generations. “After all, they live on a volcanic island,” he reflects.
A team of 15 social workers was created specifically to deal with this situation and was given two missions against the clock. On the one hand, interviewing all the families that have lost their habitual residence – not second homes or those destined for tourist use – to create a “social file” in which all the information on their previous and current situation is collected: the characteristics of their house, if they lost any other asset such as a farm (30% of the island’s income comes from that sector), the headquarters of their own business, vehicles … or questions related to their wishes, such as where they would like that his definitive house be located. A questionnaire of about 10 pages and with a duration of one hour. The other task was the design of a scale that would give a score to each of these cases.
The Government of the Canary Islands has already ready the guide that establishes the priorities for the delivery of the first 18 homes to the residents of La Palma who have lost their homes due to the volcano eruption. “The idea is that with very objective data we can measure the needs of each family, the scale has already been reviewed by the technical commission,” explains Candelaria Delgado, president of the College of Social Work of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, to this newspaper. in charge of performing this task. They are not permanent apartments: they will be delivered at the end of next week on a rental basis – with a discount of 90% to 100% – for a period of three years, until the permanent homes are erected. These are buildings that have never been inhabited, bought by the Government of the Canary Islands – through the public housing company Visocan – from banks, investment funds and individuals. Thirteen of the homes are in the municipality of Tazacorte, in the southwest of the island, and five in Fuencaliente, to the south.
The scale consists of a total of 600 points that are divided into three blocks, the one with the greatest weight being the one that refers to housing. It is assessed if that family has a housing alternative, if they have found a rental and how many months they can afford to pay, or if they have had to go to one of the hotels made available to the victims by the Canary Islands Government. In this section, it will be taken into account, for example, if the alternative that has been found for housing is unstable because the loan has a time limit or if there is overcrowding of several families in the same house, among other situations. Everything scores. Second, the income of the family unit is analyzed, data that is crossed with other administrations such as the Tax Agency. Third and last, an x-ray of the social situation is made, if there is a dependent person, with functional disability, the number of children, if there is a pregnant woman, if the family has an elderly person in their care, or if there is it deals with a victim of sexist violence, among other aspects.
At the moment, 159 families have been detected that have lost their only home after being engulfed by lava. A number that, as indicated this week by the Minister of Public Works, Sebastián Franquis, will increase in the coming weeks. In addition to the first 18 homes, 46 will be purchased in Fuencaliente and another 29 in Los Llanos, to which will be added another 23 in El Paso and seven owned by the Instituto Canario de Vivienda. A total of 125 will be delivered before the end of the year. In addition, 200 prefabricated wooden modular homes will be installed on land donated by the El Paso City Council. To pay for these acquisitions, the Canarian Executive has allocated 10 million euros to which are added the 224 transferred by the central government (of which 20 will go to housing).
Another colleague from the team of social workers, Maeva Pérez, 40, is surprised because she sees that many are tremendously hurt by what their neighbors have lost. “This part of the broken community affects them, they have a very strong emotional bond, it is a way of life that characterizes this island.” Maeva takes a few pauses and breaths. They also begin to notice the wear and tear. Almost all express that they want to live with the same neighbors. “The territory is limited and it is not clear if it will be possible to build on top of the lava. Now we go ahead and ask them in what scenario they see themselves when the reconstruction phase arrives, it is like a letter to the wise men ”, says the boss, Candelaria Delgado. Elena Jerónimo is the coordinator of the team of social workers. “Here we contribute to alleviate their pain, to look to the future with hope, to design and dream a new reality where they can continue to enjoy a magical and prosperous island.”
José Carlos and his wife are at the home of a relative who, until now, rented to tourists. He is so overworked that he wears one of each shoe. He didn’t realize it when he left. “I ask that they give me a terrazzo house – as the one-story houses with a garden area are called in the area -, not 400 meters, but small. I don’t see myself living in a flat and my wife makes her life with the neighbors, we are like a family … if I don’t have another, I’ll have to accept one of those flats, “he says.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.