Caritas Portuguesa, a Catholic charity, reported this month that requests for help, including food aid, almost doubled last year to more than 95,000. And in January and February this year, requests were up 46.5 percent on last year. The needy now include architects and lawyers, it said.
Default, foreclosure and repossession are spreading at an alarming rate.
The tax authorities sold almost 28,500 properties last year to recoup tax debts, up from just over 27,000 in 2010. So far this year the seizures are occurring at an even faster rate, with almost 6,000 in the first five weeks. Annualized, that translates into nearly 36,000 for 2012.
Banks trying to offload heaps of returned property are increasingly turning to auction houses. Euroestates, one of the country's leading house auctioneers, says 90 percent of its customer base is banks. The number of auctions it holds has tripled since 2008, to almost 30 a year. In 2008 it auctioned about 600 properties; last year it sold some 2,000.
Luis Sequeira Fernandes, an attorney who runs one of Portugal's biggest law firms that collect debts for court-ordered judgments, says he is increasingly finding that debtors have no assets left to confiscate.
"I used to claw back around 60 percent (of money owed). Now it's about 30-40 percent," Sequeira Fernandes said.
Eviction procedures, representing about half the debts he tries to recoup, are becoming riskier. Sequeira Fernandes has had a gun pointed at him by an indignant homeowner and threats of violence aren't as rare as they used to be.
"People are getting desperate and much, much more aggressive than before," he says, even though Portugal hasn't seen any of the violent street protests witnessed in Greece.
David Justino, a stocky 32-year-old locksmith, has worked with debt-collection bailiffs for the past eight years. He says he occasionally pulls on a bulletproof vest for what he fears may be hazardous jobs, but people rarely go beyond threats when he forces entry to their homes.
His work can, nevertheless, be unpleasant.
"If I was just evicting adults it wouldn't be a problem for me," he says. "What bothers me is when there are small children or handicapped people. It's not nice."
Often, by the time the bailiffs turn up at their door, defaulting homeowners have absconded.
Sparks flew in a dingy fourth-floor corridor of an apartment block near Lisbon recently as Justino used a power tool to cut through a door.
Nobody was home, and a layer of dust suggested the owners of the 3-bedroom apartment had been gone some time.
They also appeared to have made a hasty exit: a car key was on a living room table, next to a Wole Soyinka paperback; one bedroom had posters of Shakira and Robbie Williams on the walls; another had a stroller next to a Barbie doll lying on the floor — all evidence that a family once made this its home.