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Op-Ed: Dad homeless in Spain — Seeking Richard Burke Special

By Anne Sewell     Jul 10, 2012 in World
Fuengirola - In the current economic climate, it turns out it is extremely easy to become homeless within a few weeks. First you lose your job, then you lose your home.
This reporter used to have a neighbor, 58-year-old Patrick Burke. He is an Englishman, who was employed as a cook at one of the many English pubs in what is dubbed by the English "Fish Alley", in the tourist town of Fuengirola.
Regrettably, as with many English-owned businesses in Spain, he was employed without a contract, and thus has no social or unemployment benefits whatsoever.
As his apartment is owned by the same landlord as this reporter, she was recently asked by the agency if Mr Burke was still living in the apartment, which he was at the time. The agency then explained that Mr Burke had apparently lost his job, and had not paid either rental or electricity and water charges for several months. Here in Spain, the owner pays the utilities, as they have to be in the name of that owner, and then the renter repays the owner.
The owner then made a trip down from Salamanca, where he lives, to visit Mr Burke. As Mr Burke speaks no Spanish, the agency representative had to do the talking and also, rather embarrassingly for Mr Burke, involved this reporter in the conversation. Mr Burke said that he would leave the apartment the next day at 10 am. The following morning, a representative was there at 10 am on the dot to take the keys.
This all happened about two weeks ago and Mr Burke has been sitting in a nearby plaza all day with his belongings and his dog, and as he retained a key to the outside door, he is sleeping in the building where he previously resided at night.
Mr Burke has a son, Richard Burke, around 30-years-old, who resides somewhere in the area. While it seems they don't get on too well, Richard does care about him, and came to the building some time ago looking for his father, as he was concerned that he had not heard from him in some time. This reporter allowed Richard to climb from her balcony on to his father's balcony, to check whether his father was lying ill, or even possibly dead, inside the apartment. Mr Burke also has an ex-wife somewhere in Spain, but this reporter has no contact with her and unfortunately no contact details were exchanged between Richard and this reporter at that time.
When encountering Mr Burke sleeping in the building at night, this reporter has repeatedly tried to find out contact details for his son. However, Mr Burke is suffering some kind of mental problem. He has always been difficult to communicate with, and now you cannot communicate with him at all - he just constantly talks over what you are saying with "I've got an interview tomorrow" or "I've had an interview but I need you to write some Spanish words for me," and other similar phrases.
Meanwhile, rather than having interviews the poor man is sitting in the hot sun in the plaza all day, and being July, it is very hot. Jobs are scarce in Spain at the best of times, with the current economic climate, and are almost impossible to find when only speaking English.
Patrick is keeping up his appearance somehow, as you can see from the photos, and anyone that didn't know better, on seeing him lounging in the plaza, would think it was just someone relaxing and doing a crossword puzzle. When sleeping in the building on the ground floor, he lines up all his belongings, including his (most definitely dead by now) mobile phone, keys etc. next to him on the bottom step, as if it was a bedside table.
Whenever encountering him either on the ground floor, or on her own floor, this reporter does give his dog, a French Bulldog named Diesel, food and water, for which she is very grateful.
This reporter searched for his son on Facebook, and finally found him, as he likes "Video Cafe Fuengirola". She left a message on his Facebook page, and also on the page for the Video Cafe. While the Video Cafe page owner does know him, he hasn't seen Richard for some time, but also left a message for him.
However, it has now been at least two weeks and nothing has been heard from Richard, who probably doesn't live on the Internet like most of us.
The only advice this reporter has received is to contact the British Consulate in Malaga, who could arrange to send him back to England to get help. However, this seems a drastic step, knowing that he does have immediate family here in Spain. On contacting the agency who manages the building about him sleeping here at night, the only advice they gave to a downstairs neighbor was to call the police - again a rather drastic measure.
A local English-speaking newspaper is currently taking up the story, and one of their reporters will be attempting to interview Patrick, and has been warned that this might be difficult. They will publish a story about him in the newspaper, and if this fails, they say they will "use their contacts" at the British Consulate.
In the meantime, it seems the best thing to do is to get the word out in printed form, as in the local English newspaper, and on the Internet, in the hope that it catches the eye of someone who knows Patrick Burke or his son Richard.
This reporter would like all English members of Digital Journal, or English visitors who view this article, to please spread the word. Possibly a relative in England will spot this and be able to contact Richard. On Richard Burke's Facebook page, he apparently attended the Wiltshire College in Salisbury in 2003, and this reporter believes that he also works in one of the English pubs in the area.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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