Hundreds of volunteers slept out in the cold on Saturday night in Madrid as part of the global “World’s Big Sleep Out”, a fundraising event that began on a small scale in Edinburgh in 2016 and spread worldwide this year to to include more than 50,000 participants in 52 cities worldwide.
Organized in Spain by the Hogar Sí foundation, the event is designed to encourage local citizens to reflect on the plight of the homeless and displaced by spending a night on the street, while raising nearly 50 million euros worldwide to help the homeless and refugees.
In Madrid, participants bundled up with multiple layers of clothing braved the winter weather to sleep on mats, in sleeping bags and under blankets at the Matadero cultural center, where temperatures barely reached three degress Celsius.
While exact figures on how many homeless live on the streets in Spain are hard to come by, but a spokesman for the Hogar Si foundation said there are currently 31,000 homeless nationwide, with 8,000 sleeping permanently on the streets.
Others place that number higher, with the Spanish government’s National Comprehensive Strategy for Homeless People 2015-2020 saying there are about 33,000 people sleeping in the open. The Catholic church relief agency Cáritas places the figure at 40,000.
Only a fraction of the total number of homeless spend the night in shelters, however, and that number is growing. Recent data from the National Statistics Institute (INE) putting the number of homeless using shelters at 18,000, a increase of 10 percent in the last two years.
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