Bizitegi has been working continuously in support of people experiencing social exclusion in Bilbao and Bizkaia for 41 years.
Bizitegi was formed in the Otxarkoaga area of Bilbao in 1980, when a group of volunteers, supported by a local order of Capuchin friars, began working to support people who were experiencing social exclusion as a result of drug addiction, poverty or mental health problems. The aim has always been to help these people by facilitating the social inclusion process, allowing them to develop in their closest community, the area where they live.
Community work and the empowerment of social and voluntary networks in the areas where Bizitegi works (Otxarkoaga, Uribarri, Rekalde, Peñaskal) have been fundamental elements along the way, because social inclusion in the community also requires a strengthening and empowerment of the contexts in which the individuals live.
Toward the end of the 1970s, Otxarkoaga’s golden years were over. A sharp rise in unemployment fed into other problems such as mental illness and alcohol and drug abuse. The Capuchins (the community around the Capuchin friars), who had arrived relatively recently in the area, threw themselves into the task of supporting ordinary humble families and individuals who lacked the resources to take on the challenges of their changing context. From September 1980, the house that was then block 52, now Langaran 5, became a shelter for people who needed support, mediation in family conflict, psychiatric help, a charitable cafeteria and emergency accommodation.
Bizitegi had begun… although nobody knew it yet. In those days, solidarity was much more usual and did not have to be so institutionalized. We weren’t so much organizations as just people (the “Bizitegis”), and we didn’t worry too much about which organization we were working for. Today, we use new parameters to trace our history and we can identify the origins of organizations like Caritas, Hogar Izarra and others in that emerging social movement.
Until 1988 we had not needed to create an organization with which to formalize and take forward the work we had been carrying out. The occasion to do so arose from an act of solidarity by one of the people with mental illness whom we supported, who opened his house as a shelter for other people in need. For some years Bizitegi was a small, simple organization, limited to the Otxarkoaga area, but destined for significant growth… although nobody knew it yet.
From 1992, Bizitegi began to grow sharply and spread across other neighbourhoods of Bilbao. We expanded to become what we are today due to several key factors: the contributions of many people from the world of social exclusion who opened their homes to people in need; the solidarity of many volunteers who have committed without hesitation to our work, some even sharing everyday life with recovering drug abusers in apartments, not only without charging, but also sharing the apartments’ upkeep as equals; the support of certain politicians who, despite institutional unawareness of their responsibilities in this area, knew that they could not continue to turn a blind eye; and the arrival of professionals who have made valuable contributions to intervention with people experiencing social exclusion, mental trauma and addictions.
Bizitegi today is the well-established result of many synergies, and has formed part of the third sector’s history of social intervention. During these 41 years, we have, along with other organizations, helped create integration services for people struggling with exclusion, drugs and mental illness. We have enabled supportive citizens to engage with this reality. We have collaborated with the commitment of public bodies, and we have worked to professionalize and regulate work in the third sector.