Segundo F., a 58-year-old immigrant from Ecuador, committed suicide on Monday when court officers came to evict him from his home. Segundo had been living in his apartment on Bacardí street in the Barcelona neighborhood of Sants since 2018, but had not been able to pay rent for a year. Segundo had been out of work for three years and was trying to return to the workforce with the support of the Catholic charity organization Cáritas. He applied for eight jobs between February and November of last year, when Spain was deep in the grips of the coronavirus crisis. In all eight cases, Segundo – at a difficult age to re-enter the workforce – was rejected, says Cáritas.
On Monday, two workers from SAC Civil, the company in charge of issuing eviction notices in Barcelona, arrived at his apartment. Segundo took a while to open the door. “Please put on a face mask,” one of the workers told him. Segundo did not say anything. He walked toward a room in his apartment, where he lived with his pet dog, opened the window and jumped off the balcony.
Segundo’s apartment was owned by a retired woman who rented it to him for €800 a month to supplement her pension
Segundo had been granted a court-appointed attorney who tried to postpone the eviction. She asked the court for an “extraordinary suspension” on the grounds that Segundo was in a vulnerable situation and could therefore not be evicted. As part of the central government’s measures to ease the economic impact of the coronavirus crisis, people in this category cannot be removed from their homes until at least December 31. But Judge Nieves Osuna dismissed the case, ruling that Segundo did not meet the criteria for automatic exemption, i.e. that the landlord own 10 or more properties. Segundo’s apartment was owned by a retired woman who rented it to him for a little over €800 a month to “supplement her pension,” according to sources close to the family. The woman, the same sources explain, waited seven months before deciding to go to court. Segundo owed her a total of €8,000.
Judge Osuna also argued that the documents provided by Segundo did not “show a substantial loss of income” due to his job loss, which is another requisite for exemption. She pointed out that he had not presented his payslips from his previous job as a storage worker at the supermarket Mercadona. Segundo’s lawyer was able to bring together documentation of his unemployment payments which she presented on Thursday night. But on Friday, the judge announced her decision. The lawyer called Segundo on Saturday morning to inform him of the court’s decision, but he didn’t pick up the telephone. Later in the afternoon, she wrote him a WhatsApp message to explain that on Monday, unless the court officers agreed to suspend the eviction at that very moment, he would have to leave his home. He didn’t reply.
Barcelona’s social services department had also been helping Segundo. In April, local authorities wrote a report stating that he was living alone, unemployed and unable to pay rent – a document that was presented to the judge overseeing the case. Then on Monday morning, social services contacted the owner’s lawyer to ask if it was possible to postpone the eviction. The lawyer was so convinced that the eviction order was going to be suspended that they didn’t even call a locksmith about changing the locks. In the end the eviction was not suspended, nor was it carried out. Segundo took his own life before either one could happen.
In 2018, a 45-year-old man also committed suicide when court officers arrived at his home to evict him
Barcelona City Hall criticized the court on Tuesday for not taking a more proactive approach to Segundo’s case – instead of informing authorities that more documentation was needed, the judge continued with the process. “This death shouldn’t have happened,” said Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau, a former housing activist, in her channel on the messaging service Telegram. The leftist politician added that the criteria used to decide who the eviction moratorium applies to needs to be reviewed. “Up until the end, municipal services tried to mediate to stop the eviction,” she said.
In response to the case, experts have pointed out that suicide is not usually caused by one single factor, but is rather the result of various psychological, biological and social problems. With respect to Segundo, no one knew whether he was having suicidal thoughts or suffering from other issues besides his housing problems. He had not made his situation public on social media or sought support from neighborhood networks in Barcelona, which are very active.
In 2018, another man also committed suicide when he was going to be evicted. The 45-year-old victim jumped off his balcony when the court officers arrived at his home. In this case, however, the owner of the property was not an individual, but the investment fund Blackstone. The man’s partner, who lived with him in the apartment, had several municipal reports that indicated that he was in a situation of “vulnerability” and “at risk of social exclusion.”
English version by Melissa Kitson.