Sao Paulo, Apr 3 (EFE).- The mayor’s office of Brazil’s largest metropolis on Monday launched a controversial initiative to remove thousands of tents set up in recent years by homeless people.
The first tents were taken down in downtown Sao Paulo after a judge, at the local government’s petition, annulled an injunction that had halted the plan over the past two months.
The plan requires tents to be removed from the street during daylight hours, while at night homeless people are offered housing in shelters or hotels.
Sao Paulo Mayor Ricardo Nunes said at a press conference that those portable shelters can be confiscated if the owner of a tent refuses to fold it up or is not present when municipal teams arrive.
“I’m not going to allow tents in the city … We need to have an organized city,” said Nunes, who added that passers-by have the right to use Sao Paulo’s sidewalks.
The mayor said the plan will be carried out humanely and stressed that there are available places at shelters where homeless people are provided with three meals a day.
But homeless activists say there is not enough space in shelters and hotels (roughly 21,000 places are available at present, according to the mayor’s office) for the roughly 48,000 people living on the street.
Lawmaker Guilherme Boulos, leader of the Homeless Workers’ Movement (MTST), criticized the Sao Paulo government’s plan, saying that people living on the street are forced to do so because they are “abandoned by government authorities.”
“The homeless issue must be resolved in a structural way and not through the use of violence,” he said.
Nunes, however, pledged that his government will make sure places are available if demand increases. Noting that shelter capacity is being expanded, he said hotel rooms for 3,500 people have already been booked and that more will be reserved if necessary.
Poverty rates soared in Brazil due to the pandemic-triggered lockdowns, with an estimated 300,000 people now living on the streets nationwide.
Tents made of canvas or garbage bags have multiplied over the past two years in the city, Brazil’s wealthiest and most heavily populated.
The increase in poverty is particularly visible in downtown Sao Paulo, where thousands of people sleep outside every night under building overhangs and viaducts and inside tunnels. EFE