Island couple whose only home was demolished now sleeping rough on Olhão riverside

The scandal of demolitions on islands of Ria Formosa is no longer in the headlines as a moratorium is in place pending new reports. But the anguish the government-backed plan has caused is only too plain to see on Olhão riverside: two elderly people, both sick, living rough under blankets brought over to them by concerned residents.

The plights of João Peixe-Rei, 72, and Maria Julieta, 68 were made clear to all authorities years ago, stresses campaign group fighting to save islanders’ homes, SOS Ria Formosa, “but no one ever did anything”.

João was ‘forced’ out of modest accommodation on Côco island in 2015.

The agency powering demolitions – Polis Litoral – gave him two options: either go into an old people’s home, or take an apartment for which they would pay for the first three months.

As campaigners told parliament at the time, there was no way a man like João would agree to go into a home.

Thus he accepted the apartment – and a little over four months later was evicted as he couldn’t afford the rent.

“Polis washed its hands of him” explains SOS’ spokesperson Vanessa Morgado, and since then life has just become progressively harder.

Correio da Manhã suggests both João Peixe-Rei and Maria Julieta are diabetic. João is also ‘completely deaf’ and ‘has difficulty walking’, while his companion suffers high cholesterol levels and needs an operation to one of her eyes.

But local authorities on the ground seem to be moving in slow motion.

The council says the case is in the hands of Social Services which have told CM that they are “accompanying it in the context of (their) competences”.

How this can leave two frail pensioners out in all-weathers in a touristic thoroughfare is what is disgusting local people – described as ‘doing their best’ to see João and Maria Julieta at least get some warm food inside them.

Says Vanessa Morgado who berated MPs when demolitions were being sanctioned in the name of ‘fairness to everyone, and securing the environment’: “this is a story based on lies that has torn communities and people’s lives apart. I don’t know of one case where people whose only homes were torn down have been rehomed, even though this is what was guaranteed. It’s a disgrace…”

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What is left of Ilha de Côco since the homes were demolished. Say locals, the houses were actually shoring up the island. Without them, the sea is taking it over