Social Issues

The struggle for survival in Brazil’s richest city

São Paulo, Brazil, Jan 28 (EFE).- Edson Veloso has been living on the streets of São Paulo, Brazil’s richest city, for three years.

He is one of the 31,884 homeless people living in South America’s largest metropolis with a population of some 12 million, according to official data.

Veloso used to work in a company that supplied water to São Paulo, but he lost his job when the city was hit by a severe water crisis a few months before the coronavirus pandemic broke out.

Since then, he has not been able to find employment and survives off the generosity of passers-by.

The number of homeless people in São Paulo has increased by 31% during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The crisis was always there, but the pandemic aggravated it because it increased unemployment, tension between impoverished family groups and homelessness,” Father Julio Lancellotti, coordinator of Street Population Pastoral, tells Efe.

The number of women living on the streets has also risen: in 2019, 14.8% of homeless people were women while in 2021, the figure rose to 16.6%.

“The Bolsonaro government is genocidal. Everyone knows it and it is nothing new, it is not just me saying it, but millions of voices,” Father Julio says.

Ermelinda Vitar has been living without a roof over her head for over ten years.

Today, she can afford one or two nights in a boarding house with the money she earns busking.

Homeless people are also victims of violence from both the police and the city’s residents.

“Police actions and people’s hostility is frequent. Often the officers take away the tents that are in the square, sometimes assaulting people,” Veloso says.

While the city of São Paulo accounts for over 10% of the country’s total GDP, the number of people living in “improvised dwellings” has risen by a staggering 330% in the last two years, according to the city mayor.

“In the past it was a shame to sleep in the street, today it is normal. Many people have lost everything, and entered into misery. I myself am one of them, I am hungry and live on donations to clothe myself or eat,” says Claudemir Canto.

Studies have shown that it takes about nine generations for a person to achieve social mobility in Brazil.

“That means that if a person is poor today, they are condemned to a perpetual sentence of poverty,” Father Julio says.

According to Father Julio, the city is experiencing a “humanitarian crisis.”

“Today in Sao Paulo there are more houses without people than people without houses,” he says. EFE

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