By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Municipal Office of Social Assistance of Rio de Janeiro estimates that the number of people sleeping on the streets of the city has increased more than 150 percent in the last three years, according to a government news report.
Last year alone, authorities estimate there were 14,200 people homeless in Rio de Janeiro. The shelters available today can not even contain twenty percent of that number, according to the secretariat itself, there are 62 shelters in the capital with 2,115 vacancies.
Maralice dos Santos is a social worker who lived on the street for three years and is now the state coordinator of the National Movement of Population in Situation of Street, in Rio de Janeiro. She shares that more people are being forced to sleep in the open due to the growth of unemployment and the economic crisis in the state.
“Entire families are going to the streets, because they have lost their homes because of lack of jobs, and they are adding to those already in the street,” she told a government news agency. Adding, “We are people who have only the right to have no rights. We are the rubbish of society, which our rulers want to put under the rug.”
Public defender Carla Beatriz Nunes Maia, who has served this segment for years, believes that the number of people living on the street in Rio de Janeiro is more than 15,000. The number was calculated based on the increase in demand at the Defensoria’s locations specific for the homeless.
The presence of families in this situation has also increased she said. “The other day I received a couple with a baby of one month, who could not register the child, because they had no proof of residence. They are penalized twice and the child becomes an easy target for kidnapping.”
The municipal secretary of Social Assistance and Human Rights, Teresa Bergher, feels that since taking over the department five months ago, the situation in the shelters has improved a lot, and while she acknowledges that the number of shelters is insufficient, she is focused on the path off the streets.
“We need more shelters, but it’s not enough to just put people in shelters, we need to point a way out to these people. We have a small number of social educators, because of the crisis, but we are training these professionals,” Bergher told the government news agency.