Homeless and without food: in the capital of Brazil, only

Ana Carolina, a 20-year-old recyclable material collector, has lived for more than five years in an occupation of land in Asa Sul, one of the richest regions in Brasília, less than 10 kilometers from Praça dos Três Poderes. She says that she left the interior of Ceará to try to make a better life in the country’s capital and escape a fatal fate: hunger.

“There, there was no one to turn to, it was to stay and starve. Here, at least, we can get some donations to survive”, he says.

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In the place where she lives, which is in an area close to Parque da Cidade, she lives with about 30 people, the vast majority from the same family. “My grandfather lived here.” Her son, now three years old, was born living in the occupation. The husband, without a job, also works as a scavenger.

The expectation of a better life has yet to materialize, but Ana Carolina did not imagine that the situation could get even worse since the beginning of the pandemic. Recyclable material, especially cardboard, lost market value. If before it managed to earn up to R$600 per month, now the income does not reach R$400. Combined with the inflation of food and basic products, hunger has become a daily threat.

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“The person has to ask for a donation, because there’s not always rice or food to cook. Often it’s couscous for lunch and dinner, and being happy.”

In Brazil, there are almost 20 million people suffering from hunger, according to data from the National Survey on Food Insecurity in the Context of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Brazil, developed by the Brazilian Research Network on Food Sovereignty and Security (PENSSAN Network), released at the beginning of the year. Extreme poverty has almost tripled, from 4.5% of the population to 12.8%.

According to the survey, in the last three months of 2020, 19.1 million people were starving in Brazil and about 116 million people did not have full and permanent access to food.

Regarding the Federal District, a recent study by the Brazilian Institute of Economics of the Getúlio Vargas Foundation (Ibre/FGV) showed that the percentage of families living in poverty rose from 12.9% to 20.8% of the population. Extreme poverty went from 3.2% to 7.3%. It was the worst performance among all the capitals in the country. Together, these two groups make up a contingent of more than 860,000 people in socially vulnerable situations in the country’s capital.

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The World Bank considers that someone is in poverty when they have an income of US$ 5.50 a day (about R$ 28.60). In extreme poverty, the income is US$1.90 a day (R$10.45).

refugees from poverty

“Look at the number of people who are living on the streets, people who are leaving their homes and moving to the central region of the city. The fact is that poverty is spreading throughout Brazil. There was a vigorous leap that pushed the population towards the poverty on a scale never seen before”, points out Newton Gomes, professor of the Post-Graduate Program in Social Work at the University of Brasília (UnB).

Gomes explains that people are being expelled by the misery that befalls other cities, especially in the interior of Brazil, and they flock to large urban centers for reasons of survival. In practice, the professor concludes, large metropolises, such as Brasília, function as a real refugee camp from poverty.

“In the case of refugees, the difference is that some are expelled in war, others because of religious intolerance. In Brazil, they are expelled by misery. They are nomads of capital, people that capital keeps in permanent movement, unemployed, exploited, to to be able to help oneself in time of need”.

In Brasília, whose economy is mainly based on the service sector, the pandemic caused a veritable extermination of income, as people who depended on street sales and the provision of small services simply saw the demand disappear.

“The service sector was weakened and the fact that the contingent of public servants, who represent a greater portion of income, started to work remotely ended up changing the profile of consumption. A huge part of society that lived from the provision of services to this segment that could pay no longer had this income”, argues the professor.

Concerned about the effects of the crisis on the most vulnerable population, a group of friends created Projeto Dividir, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that seeks to develop a network of solidarity and serve communities in the DF, especially the homeless population, with donation of food and basic items.

As reported by Sofia Anouk, one of the project’s mentors, at first, the expectation was that the pandemic would last for a few months and that economic activity would recover, but the scenario worsened.

“We thought it would be over in a few months, but, like any crisis, social problems intensify and what we can see today is a huge number of entire families who not only have difficulty accessing basic food, but also they live in a situation of food insecurity. In other words, they do not have access to food that meets their subsistence needs, nutrients, etc.”.

With daily production of lunchboxes, from purchases from small farmers settled in the agrarian reform organized by the Movement of Landless Rural Workers (MST), the Dividir Project collects and distributes donations and organizes the purchase of supplies for vulnerable families.

In addition, it follows the struggle of people who live in occupations and are under permanent threat of expulsion. The project maintains profiles on social networks to publicize the work and interested people can contribute, not only with material help, but also with the donation of time and work to help with the tasks of assisting families.

Removals in the pandemic

A little over four months ago, 38-year-old recyclable material collector Ivânia Souza Santos was expelled, along with 24 other families, from an occupation in the vicinity of the Banco do Brasil Cultural Center (CCBB), which is located a few kilometers from central area of ​​Brasilia. At the time, a popular mobilization tried to prevent the removals, which were banned for months by virtue of a court decision that prevented evictions during the pandemic. But after overturning the injunction in court, Governor Ibaneis Rocha (MDB) ordered the forced removal of the families.

“There were 24 families, which corresponded to 79 people, including adults, children, teenagers, elderly people and even wheelchair users. The police were very violent and people were left helpless.” At the time, to justify it, the GDF informed that all families received the Bolsa Família and would have been included in the housing list of the DF Housing Development Company (Codhab). However, the prospect of obtaining affordable housing seems distant. Other removals also took place in the context of the pandemic, in occupations of Riacho Fundo and Taguatinga, for example.

Families suffer removal of GDF in occupation in Riacho Fundo / Reproduction/Instagram

The rent-aid only arrived a little over a month ago, Ivânia is currently living in a kitchenette with her husband and three young children, in the neighborhood of Vila Planalto, a region close to the former occupation. Without working for several months, she says that the aid, in the amount of R$600, is less than the rent on the property, of just over R$820, including expenses with water and energy. “I use the Bolsa Família money to supplement and pay the rent and bills, but there’s nothing left.”

Ivania also moved to the DF, coming from the interior of Bahia, in search of a better future. She, who had already worked in movements for the struggle for land, arrived in the capital with the aim of helping other families to obtain the right to housing. The occupation, despite all the difficulties, guaranteed at least the possibility of eating better.

“Things are very expensive, especially having to pay rent. During the occupation, we had help from the basic food basket, a basket of vegetables, donations. When the Bolsa Família arrived, we were able to buy meat. People helped each other and had solidarity. Now, we are in oblivion”.


Special Hunger in Brazil


Project coordination: Mariana Pitasse and Rodrigo Chagas | Edition: Kátia Marko, Monyse Ravena, Flavia Quirino, Fredi Vasconcelos, Vanessa Gonzaga, Larissa Costa, Leandro Melito, Mariana Pitasse and Rodrigo Chagas | Report: Eduardo Miranda, Jaqueline Deister, Wallace Oliveira, Ayrton Centeno, Vinícius Sobreira, Lucila Bezerra, Giorgia Prates, Pedro Carrano, Ana Carolina Caldas, Marcelo Gomes, Francisco Barbosa, Pedro Rafael Vilela, Murilo Pajolla, Pedro Stropasolas and Daniel Giovanaz | Visual identity: Fernando Bertolo | Art: Michele Gonçalves | Radio: Camila Salmazio, Geisa Marques, Douglas Matos, Daniel Lamir, Adilson Oliveira, André Paroche and Lua Gatinoni | Audio-visual: Marina Rara, Isa Chedid, Leonardo Rodrigues and Jorge Mendes | Social networks: Cris Rodrigues, Larissa Guold, Guilherme Faro Bonan, Joanne Motta and Vitor Shimomura | Journalism Coordination: Rodrigo Durão | CPMídias Direction: Lucio Centeno and Nina Fideles.

Source: Federal District BdF

Edition: Flávia Quirino

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