Brazil has been hit hard by the coronapandemic. So far, nearly 575,000 coronadodes have been registered, and hundreds of new deaths are still being added every day. The social consequences of the pandemic are also becoming increasingly visible.
In São Paulo, the largest city in the country, the number of homeless people has increased sharply. Among them there are more and more families. Mothers with children in particular ended up on the streets in recent months.
“I lost everything,” says 21-year-old Sarah. She wears her eleven month-old son on her arm. Until recently she worked as a telemarketer. “Because of the pandemic, I was fired. Then I couldn‘t pay the rent anymore and I had to find a place to sleep on the street.”
Sarah goes six mornings a week to the cooking of Father Lancellotti, a Catholic priest who has been working for the city’s homeless for decades. Just before 7 am he arrives, with a shopping cart full of sandwiches and a whole procession of volunteers chasing him. Free breakfast for the homeless of his parish.
“Even before the pandemic, the number of homeless people in São Paulo increased dramatically due to the economic crisis,” explains Lancellotti. “It was estimated to be 25,000 people at the time. Now we estimate that more than 35,000 people live on the streets.”
The priest attributes the increase to the pandemic. “The number of unemployed increased, more people could no longer pay their debts and tensions within some families became untenable.” The result is visible to everyone in the city. People sleep under viaducts and on the sidewalk, with dozens of tents in squares and gardens.
“Only now, a year and a half after the start of the pandemic, the municipality opens shelters for the growing group of homeless women with children,” Lancellotti complains. “That‘s lavishly late.” There are currently some shelters in the city, with space for a total of less than a thousand people.
Elena and her three children are in such a shelter. “We have to live like this since February,” she says. Her ex-husband can’t afford alimony anymore. “I didn‘t have enough money for rent.”
She’s glad she doesn‘t have to sleep on the street, but the bags under her eyes betray a hard life. “There is no privacy and you have to keep an eye out all the time. Among the women in the shelter are people with mental health problems and addicts.”
During the day, Elena hangs on the street all day with her children 9, 6 and 5 years old. “They haven’t been going to school since the start of the pandemic. And because I don‘t have a cell phone anymore, they don’t get an online lesson either.”
Father Lancellotti is pessimistic. “Many people get completely isolated when they end up on the streets. The longer they are homeless, the harder it gets emotional and psychological. It‘s very hard to get out of that situation.” “At times I don’t see it anymore,” Elena says. “But luckily I‘m not depressed, I have faith in God.” She’s looking for work, without success for the time being.
Sarah also dreams of a job. But there are nearly 15 million unemployed in Brazil, and so far the young mother doesn‘t even have time to look for work. She’s surviving all day long. “It‘s so hard. If my baby wants something, I can’t give him that. That‘s awful. I have no diapers, no milk. And there’s no one who wants to help you.”