Valeria39s Stations of the Cross sleeping on the streets for

Valeria's Stations of the Cross, sleeping on the streets for 10 days after being expelled from the Madrid Youth Center

He had a blanket and a sweatshirt on his shoulders. At the end of November, Valeria (not her real name), 16 years old and born in Parla, waited for the doors of the Hortaleza children's home for minors to open so that she could speak to the director. He had been sleeping on the streets for more than ten days, he told EL PAÍS, which was able to confirm this with sources at the institution. This building had been his only home for seven months until May, when he arrived there with the help of police after jumping from the third floor to escape a beating from his family. When the center was on the verge of collapse, she was thrown out to return to her mother. “I would rather die of cold than return home,” he told this newspaper, which has followed his case ever since. Every day at lunchtime she returned to the center door and begged to be let in.

The family department in charge of the center did not respond to this newspaper's questions about what measures were taken to ensure that Valeria went to a safe place and off the streets when leaving the center, nor were she offered other options. like going to an animal shelter. The organization denies that she was expelled because she was told that she had to return to her family and it was she who decided to leave the country not to return home. The ministry insists that it “ensures the protection and well-being of minors through its various resources.”

According to Valeria's story – which coincides with the story she told the president of the Somos Asegura association, Emilia Lozano, when she was found in the same place and of which the General Directorate of Childhood was aware – she was suggested to leave the center and returned to her family after being admitted there for more than seven months. It wasn't the first time this had happened, he had gone out again and hit the streets too. She was sleeping in the park next to the site, waiting for a friend to come out to talk to someone; Another time he found a place to sleep in a small apartment in the Plaza de Castilla. A situation that management was aware of. The first day Valeria spoke to EL PAÍS, she had a letter to the director: “I wrote to her that please don't kick me out and that if she wants to kick me out, she should send me to another center, namely into me.” “I didn't care whether it was open or not. Closed,” he remembers.

The initial reception center for minors in Hortaleza is a facility dependent on the Community of Madrid and acts as an emergency room. Minors between 15 and 18 years old come at the request of the police, the youth prosecutor's office or the social services while a decision is being made about them: return to their family or placement in another facility or accommodation. You should not stay there longer than three months. However, this is not always the reality of this institution, which for years has complained about overcrowding in its facilities, with a capacity for 52 boys and 20 girls, but exceeding the number of places available each week.

In Valeria's case, her Way of the Cross began in May. “My mother locked me in the room, closed the street door and all the windows. When I heard that no one was in the house, I broke open the door and saw that the one on the street was closed. And I didn't know what to do, I was very nervous. I'm very scared. The first thing that came to my mind was to take a vase and break the window glass. It was a third floor,” he remembers. “I threw the mattress on the street and jumped on it from the third floor. “I didn’t hurt myself,” he says. From there, she tried looking for a friend but couldn't find her. He then went to a squat he knew because he had been trying to run away from home since he was 14. “The police found me there, they took me to the police station and I told them that I would rather die than return home. Then the prosecutor’s office called Hortaleza and sent me to the center,” he says.

A detail of Valeria's room at the Hortaleza youth center.A detail of Valeria's room at the Hortaleza youth center.

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Valeria grew up in Parla. He has two younger siblings, one eight years old and another 13 years old, with whom he shared a room. His parents are from Nigeria, although all of his children were born in Spain. His mother works as a cleaning lady in a hotel and his father is a transport operator. “I've been hit at home since I was little. At school you could see my bruises and when my classmates asked me, I told them that I had fallen.” He admits that he started running away from home at the age of 14, that he spent two months abroad and that it wasn't the first time he had slept on the street. She said she saw her family about twice during her hospital stay: “The last conversation with my mother ended very badly.”

At the beginning of December, Valeria returned to the center after more than a week of sleeping outdoors. He stayed there until the 16th, his birthday, when he was again told that he had to leave despite his request to management. Before that, she already suspected that she would have to go back on the street and during the conversation with EL PAÍS Valeria showed some cuts that she had just suffered on her arm. “When I'm nervous, I don't feel pain or anything. I start cutting myself like crazy and don't feel anything until I come to my senses and see that I've been cutting myself a lot. I started cutting myself at a young age, the marks on my leg are from a knife that stabbed me,” she explains.

These days he is back home. “But I’ll go as soon as I can,” he explains. He has tried to look for work through a program run by the Community of Madrid, although he doubts he will get it. “I want to go to France. It's the only place I can think of outside Spain. There I'll go to the police station and say I'm a Mena and they'll put me in a center. They can't like a minor left here on the street,” he concludes.

Valeria's case reflects a hidden reality: that of hundreds of children with or without families. The president of the Somos Acología association, who heard Valeria's story at the end of November and conveyed it to the general director of Kinder, Silvia Valmaña, in a private meeting, laments that this is not the only case: “I myself accompanied other children some time ago Park because she was left on the street as punishment. We called the police. They have no one, their house is this center.” This newspaper has heard of another case, of a girl who slept at the airport for months after departure and, like Valeria, returned to the gate of the compound every day to try to get in. Much thinner, even with bed bugs.

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