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Cairo's street dwellers

Sherif, an ex-mechanic from Ghamra, rests on blankets during a particularly cold winter morning. Sherif has been homeless for three years (MEE/Jihad Abaza)

CAIRO - Over the past four decades, Egyptian governments have spent millions in public funds on housing projects that, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights reports, rarely ever reach their alleged target beneficiaries, the poor.

This includes the national housing project, "Mubarak Housing" and the social housing project that then-minister of defence Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced in March 2013, the One Million Units project.

Meanwhile, there are thousands upon thousands of homeless people on the streets of Cairo, although there are no exact statistics regarding numbers. There are also few formal organisations to provide them with services or shelter.

The homeless are not recognised as a distinct category either at the state level or amongst civil society organisations, and because many do not have identification cards and paperwork, they have no access to social and health services. Many homeless people Middle East Eye encountered also tended to have mental disabilities.

The people featured in this photo essay have become homeless for multiple and varied reasons. Some are the victims of theft or of dire personal circumstances while others live on the street by choice.
 

In some cases, homeless people are well known and easily identifiable in their neighbourhoods as many of them stay in fixed locations for various periods of time, ranging from months to years and even decades.

Here are some of the people who call the streets of Egypt their home.
 

The tour guide

Khaled el-Sayyed became homeless three years ago when the tourism industry crashed, he said. Prior to that, he was working as a tour guide, hence his well-spoken English.

"I’ve been jobless for a while now, since the revolution. Ideally I would like to find a job overseas," el-Sayyed told MEE, adding that his efforts at finding a job in Egypt have all been in vain. 

Khaled spends his days sitting on this bench in Abdel Moneim Ryad Square (MEE/Jihad Abaza)
The mechanic

Sherif Mohamed Badry, who sleeps in Ghamra, has been homeless ever since he injured his leg three years ago. He used to be a mechanic before his injury, but since then he has not been able to find work. Sherif said that although his only possessions are blankets and a bundle of clothes, he is thankful and optimistic. 

Sherif Mohamed Badry, spends his days and nights in Ghamra (MEE/Jihad Abaza)

The Sufi

Sheikh Omar, a Sufi Muslim, says he is on the streets because he abandoned worldly comforts and family in pursuit of spiritual fulfilment and a life devoted to prayer and supplication to God.

"I devote myself to God alone, unlike the beggars you see around you who live off others," Omar said.

Omar, a Sufi sheikh, says he left his old life to devote himself to spiritual development (MEE/Jihad Abaza)

The silent one

This homeless woman is a regular in the Abdelmoneim Riad area, where she is often seen walking and sleeping around the downtown area. The woman sits and meditates for a few moments. Other people from the area say that although they regularly see her, she does not speak to or acknowledge anyone. 

A homeless woman who is regularly spotted in the Abdelmoneim Riad area but does not speak to anyone, even when approached (MEE/Jihad Abaza)

I lost my mother, my fiance and my home

El-Sayed, a 26-year-old anaemic, sits on a bench in Giza, where he has been living for months. He hopes to start looking for a job after his health improves, he says. El-Sayed, who used to work in a café in Haram, injured his leg when he was caught in the midst of clashes between security forces and Muslim Brotherhood supporters. His mother died after his leg injury; he lost his apartment after his mother’s death and he has been on the streets ever since. 

El-Sayed told MEE that after becoming homeless, his friends and few family members all began to drift away and in the end he had no one. El-Sayed was engaged to be married, but after his injury, his fiancée left him. 

El-Sayed has lost his job, his home and family members since injuring his leg when caught up in clashes between protesters and security forces (MEE/Jihad Abaza)

'A home is a family'

Gabriela Nimphy, a 53-year-old German woman born in West Berlin but previously living in Hamburg, poses for a picture in Abdel-Moneim Ryad Square, where she has been living for around three months after her personal belongings, including her passport, were stolen. Because Nimphy no longer had legal documents, she said she had to live and sleep in the streets of Cairo, an experience that has exposed her to sexual harassment, theft, cold and hunger. 

"A home is family, a flat. Family is your home. Homelessness is to be without friends, family, anybody," Nimphy says.
Fifty-three year old German woman Gabriela has been living on the streets since losing her passport and belongings (MEE/Jihad Abaza)

No healthcare

Mahmoud, who suffers from epilepsy, says that although he has a family, he spends lengthy periods on the street. 

He has no access to medical care and has to endure his seizures alone and uncared for. 

Mahmoud shows his national ID card. Many homeless people suffer after losing ID cards, passports and other forms of identification.

Lack of ID is one of the biggest barriers for homeless people. Without IDs, many are unable to get jobs and become stuck in a spiral of homelessness.

Mahmoud shows his national ID card (MEE/Jihad Abaza)

Faceless and nameless

Many other homeless people remain faceless and nameless and are almost an unnoticed feature of the Cairo scene:

Homeless people often go unnoticed on the streets of Cairo (MEE/Jihad Abaza)
Homeless people often seek shelter in mosques, such as the Sayida Nafisa mosque, although management usually evicts those who sleep overnight in the grounds of the mosque. 

 

A man sleeps in the Sayida Nafisa mosque (MEE/Jihad Abaza)
A homeless man next graffiti artwork with the words ‘we want to live.’ (MEE/Jihad Abaza)

El-Sayyed and Nimphy told MEE they are optimistic that they will be leaving the streets and finding employment soon. Others aren't so sure, saying the longer a person stays homeless, the more difficult it becomes for him or her to re-enter the job market or find a home.