The COVID-19 pandemic transformed the rhythm of the world. Even with doubts about how to deal with the new virus, several countries followed science's recommendations and adopted social isolation to contain the pandemic – with remote work, closed schools, and requests for everyone to stay home. But for those who don't have a house, how can they be quarantined if they don't have a roof?
The impact on the poorest and most vulnerable populations is still uncertain, but it may be greater than in large cities, at least in Brazil. In the periphery of several Brazilian state capitals, for example, there are constant reports of lack of water. In the country that ranks seventh in the world in the classification of social inequality, the chasm between the classes became more evident with the pandemic.
In the case of the homeless population, if the lack of public toilets for personal hygiene was already a problem, now it became an essential issue. How to keep your hands clean and sanitized, the main preventive measure, without access to soap and water?
Shelters and shelters tend to have problems, such as poor ventilation, few windows, little space and crowds in small spaces. In Porto Alegre, southern Brazil, the municipal prefecture recently announced 175 new spaces to house homeless people during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the property to which the measure refers is a hostel that already exists in the city, which is just beginning to be administered by the prefecture, by means of a decree.
Porto Alegre, the capital of the Rio Grande do Sul, has 1,483 million inhabitants, according to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), and a homeless population of around 4,000 people, according to the prefecture. In addition to the vacancies in shelters, the entities have demanded from the public power effective measures to contain the spread of the virus among the population living on the street.
Several of these entities in Porto Alegre signed a letter indicating rapid measures, such as the provision of existing water intakes in public places, which are generally closed, the provision of gyms to house the population during quarantine, and toilets for hygiene.
Vision of who is on the streets
For Anderson Corrêa, 40 years old, who lived 10 years on the streets of the city of Porto Alegre and now works in Jornal Boca de Rua, the most important actions of the public power at this time would be to invest in public toilets and equip and enable land unoccupied or gyms to isolate those who have no place to live, but respecting their autonomy. He spoke on the phone to Global Voices:
Nem everyone wanted to confine, fear to respect. As pessoas têm que ter o seu direito de ir e vir. Teria that ter people give health to take care of the local, pessoas da social assistance, and não militar (em cidades do interior do Rio Grande do Sul, as Caxias do Sul, hospitais de campanha erect hair Ficam army next years coat points for people em situation of rua). You should know that you have experience with people who are in the situation of rua pra to take contact with your locals and a coat for the people who want to change from quarentena.
Although no one wants to be confined, you have to respect. People have to have the right to come and go. There would have to be health personnel to take care of the premises, social workers, not the military (in cities in the interior of Río Grande do Sul, such as Caxias do Sul, field hospitals built by the Army are close to shelters for street people) . There would have to be people with experience with people living on the street to take possession of these premises and a shelter for those who wanted to be quarantined.
The stories of those interviewed by teams from the Jornal Boca de Rua –which they make and sell on the streets of the city of Porto Alegre– deal with the difficulties of obtaining help and work since before the pandemic. Now, in fear of pollution, selling products at stoplights has become more difficult, Anderson says:
They know that the wages of the inhabitants of rua and the inhabitants of rua are always like theirs. Or viruses and contagious muito, ele may be not paid. Eles não querem nem que o diana chegue perto do carro.
They know that the newspaper goes through those who live on the street, who always have dirty hands. The virus is very contagious, it can be in the newspaper. They don't want the newspaper to come anywhere near the car.
They fear other things too: with social isolation, there is the difficulty of maintaining informal jobs and getting food, either due to the decrease in donations, or due to lack of money to buy them. Thinking about that, the newspaper launched a campaign of virtual signatures to continue circulating and guarantee the livelihood of its members. With this, the printing and circulation of the physical newspaper was suspended, to keep sellers and buyers safe.
Support from civil society
In the perception of those who live on the streets in the city of Porto Alegre who spoke to Global Voices, civil society has done more to benefit them: they have made donations of food, hygiene materials and a support network among the poorest, whether they live on the street or not. As Josiane Oliveira, 40, who lived about four years on the street, tells:
Se não é or poor to help or poor, to favela to help favela, everyone was dead.
If the poor do not help the power, if the favela does not help the favela, everyone would be dead.
As an example of this network, in the city there are initiatives such as the Solidarity Bathroom, which enables the premises for hygiene and soap and water; or the distribution of snacks, and an association between the National Population Movement that lives on the Street in Río Grande do Sul, Amada Massa, Escola Porto Alegre and Centro Social da Rua
For Nara Gonçalves, who has lived on the street for less than a year, what changed the most in her life during the pandemic was work:
Because no one wanted to hit me for faxina. Eu fazia e agora no one is hitting me and no one is buying nosso jornal mais.
Because nobody wants to hire me to do the cleaning. I used to do it before, and now nobody hires me and they don't buy the newspaper anymore.
José Luís, 51 years old, Nara's partner, has lived on the street for 12 years and says that in his career he did not go through such a critical moment as the current one:
Eu já passei due to various difficulties in terms of contagious diseases, type doença da vaca louca, flu do frango and all others that will appear, né? More nenhuma left me with as much difficulty as that of agora. Because I live a reality of life, né? Eu não estou inside a house, eu vivo debaixo de uma árvore, numa barraca (…). I would rather be working through the sinaleira do than be in this situation.
I already went through several difficulties in terms of contagious diseases, such as the louca cow, the avian flu and all the ones that appeared, right? But none left me with as many difficulties as this one now. Because I live the reality of the street, isn't it? And I'm not in a house, I live under a tree, in a tent. (…) Although he lives on the street, we like to look for our money even if it is little, but we like to work. I would rather be working at the stoplight today than be in this situation.
In addition to working at the newspaper, he also sold water bottles at stoplights and looked after cars parked on the streets of the state capital. With social isolation, all those sources of income were compromised.
It is difficult, because there is no car to take care of, nem cars in sinaleira. Two little cars that are still scampering over there, so people don't want to fail with people, to preserve their health, right? It is totally difficult.
People try to avoid crowds, so only if you do not need a market, and about what you do most, you used to wash as often as three times during the day, so I was washing fifteen times.
It is difficult, because there are no cars to take care of, nor cars at traffic lights. Of the few cars that are still out there, people do not want to talk to us, to preserve their health, right? It is very difficult.
We seek to avoid crowds, I only go to the market when I need something and on my hands, if I used to wash them three times a day, now I wash them 15 times.
He says that he gets water as a favor from the owners of an establishment, but he does not say which for fear of retaliation from the boss of the workers.
Faz 10 years that I took care of (car), faz I heard years that I worked as a day, and I faito years that I seemed to recycle. Not detracting or a person who recycles, but a different job. And now I am selling myself de novo na recycler status, a activity that I have abandoned. De novo, I had to throw away face not lixo.
I've been caring for ten years, I've been working with the newspaper for eight years, and I've stopped recycling for eight years. I do not detract from the staff who recycle, but it is a different job. And now I see myself again as a recycler, an activity that I had abandoned. Again, I have to put my face in the trash.
Editorial note: the author collaborates with the newspaper Boca de Rua (Porto Alegre, Río Grande do Sul) and wrote a dissertation on “Street, feminine noun: women on the move and right to the body in the city”, from the Federal University of Río Grande do Sul (UFRGS)