São Paulo city’s homeless people rose from 8,706 to 13,666 between 2000 and 2009, according to a survey by the municipal secretariat of Social Assistance, the Economic Research Institute Foundation (FIPE) and the Center for Rural and Urban Studies (Ceru).
However, in 2009, only 6,587 (48.2%) of the homeless were actually living on the streets in the open. Ten years ago, when the last such survey was made, there were 5,013 (54.3% of the homeless total) living on the streets.
The survey found that the number of people living in municipal shelters rose from 3,693 in 2000 (45.7% of the total homeless), to 7,079 (51.8%) in 2009.
Most of the São Paulo homeless live in the central part of the city in and around two large plazas: Praça da República and Praça da Sé. The vast majority of them are male – 86%. In a sample that was interviewed (526 people) it was found that slightly less than 10% were illiterate and 62.8% said they had not completed elementary school.
The group was, to say the least, heterogeneous. Some had mental problems, others were abandoned by families, had been in prison. There were even people who had had regular jobs. And not all of them can be classified as poor, says Atila Pinheiro, from the National Movement for People Who Live in the Street (Movimento Nacional População em Situação de Rua).
The most recent survey (2009) found a large number of the homeless admitted to having problems with drinking and drugs (74.4%), but the reason most often cited for living on the streets or in shelters was loss of employment.
A 2007 survey by the Ministry of Social Development found similar results: that over 70% of homeless people they interviewed cited one or more of these problems as the reason they were in the situation they were in: drugs or drinking, unemployment or family problems.
Which leads Alderon Pereira da Costa, of the Interministerial Committee on Public Policy for the Homeless (Comitê Interministerial de Políticas Públicas para População em Situação de Rua, to point out that someone who wants to work needs a different kind of assistance than someone on drugs.
However, the president of an organization for the homeless (Movimento Estadual da População em Situação de Rua em São Paulo), Robson César, says that the profile of the homeless is changing. In the past, he says, most came from other states looking for work. Today most of them have become unskilled locals with various and varying personal problems with the result that they have little chance of finding work.
Last month, following the murder of five homeless people in the Jaçanã region (north) of the city of São Paulo, government attorneys recommended that the city, in order to ensure the safety of as many people living on the streets as possible, give them access to municipal shelters.
The Jaçanã murders remain unsolved. The governor of São Paulo, Alberto Goldman, has called for a full investigation. A police chief, Luiz Fernando Lopes Teixeira, told Brazilian government news agency Agência Brasil, “As far as we know the killers were on a motorbike, wearing helmets. The crime took place late at night. All of which makes it a difficult case. But we are doing everything we can.”