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English Report

The social inclusion of people in a street situation depends in large part on individual transformation, but also on a change in attitude by society, media, and governments.

Life on the Streets

Marcio Seidenberg

Marcio Seidenberg*

It is with increasing alarm that we notice the tendency of governments to try to hide the situation of people on the street, perhaps to give the false impression that the problem doesn’t exist.  At the end of September 2005, the municipal government of São Paulo installed a rough concrete ramp, uncomfortable for sleeping, in a tunnel that gives access to the Avenida Paulista. 

The ramp is an expression of a project that does not take into consideration where those that inhabited the area will go.  It is, therefore, one more door that is closed in a city for those who don’t have anywhere to go.  The order appears to be to send them away, to prevent people from remaining on the street.  But where should they go?  Are better shelters being constructed?  In the end, the users of the majority of these street spaces compare the shelters to jail.  They say that shelters are worse than the streets.  Are there investments in provisional housing, programs for social relocation and rent assistance?  Is there a priority for the creation of definitive housing projects?  Instead of constructing ramps, why not construct real conditions of a dignified life? 

 The problem is historical.  The State programs and policies for this population haven’t changed much.  From the destruction of the Rio de Janeiro slum tenements in the beginning of the 20th century to the current removal operations by the municipal governments of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, we can observe a cyclical process that envisions “cleaning up” the cities and confining street people in shelters and hostels, policies that seek to preserve postcard images.


World phenomenon

A study by the Foundation of the Institute for Economic Research (FIPE), in October of 2003, showed that in the city of São Paulo there are 10,394 adult citizens living on the street, which represents an increase of 20% from 2000, when the census revealed 8,706 people.  The increase is significantly greater than the overall population increase in the city, estimated at 2% per year.   People living on the streets are very diverse. They are so heterogeneous that don’t fit into any stereotypes. They include those who gather paper and other materials for recycling, to the unemployed, addicted to chemical substances, victims of domestic violence, or even those who have a job, but don’t have money to pay their bus fare home.

The street situation category includes those who live under the awnings, viaducts and on the streets and those who live in shelters maintained by the government and by philanthropic institutions.  In contrast to what may be imagined, this situation is not limited only to poor or underdeveloped nations.  It is a world phenomenon.  “This situation does not occur in a vacuum.  It cannot be isolated from the social, cultural, political and economic contexts of each country.  It could happen to any of us” affirms Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the UN.

A few non-governmental initiatives have made contributions towards resolving this extremely complex problem.  Street newspapers, for example, that began to appear in the 1990s are established today as a work alternative, generating income and for those without homes.  They are, potentially, an instrument of transformation.

There are more than 50 street publications spread over 30 countries.  They began in 1989 with the New York newspaper Street News, sold exclusively by the adult street population.  Inspired by that publication, The Big Issue magazine was launched in 1991 and continues to circulate in London.  In 1994, the International Network of Street Papers (INSP) was founded to integrate and give logistical support to these projects worldwide.  In Brazil, two NGOS belong to the INSP:  The Civil Organization for Social Action (Organização Civil de Ação Social), with the Ocas magazine sold in Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo, and the Free Agency for Childhood, Citizenship, and Education (Agência Livre para Infância, Cidadania e Educação) with the Boca de Rua newspaper in Porto Alegre.



People starting the Ocas program fill out a form and receive 10 magazines to begin working.  From then on, they buy the magazines for R$ 1 (USD 0.30), and sell them to readers, exclusively in the street, for R$3.  The difference is the profit for the seller, without intermediaries.  Through interaction with the readers the participants in the project (re)establish contacts and (re)create links.  Ocas was twice invited to participate in the World Cup of Street Soccer and had the opportunity to take their own team of winners to Scotland and Sweden.  Weekly, the São Paulo group meets in the office of the organization to participate in a psychoanalytic activity, using the techniques of psychodrama.  On Saturdays, there is a creative workshop, with the objective of creating content for one of the regular sections of the magazine, the “Homeless Face”.  Interviews, articles, news stories, and images are produced collectively.  When the participants express their thoughts and questions in a means of communication, they are contributing to changing the conscience of society.  Even further, the Ocas becomes more than just an instrument of employment, to being a space that gives a voice.

One of the biggest challenges in the work with the street population is to create conditions for personal transformation.  To leave this condition is a road of advances and setbacks.  People need to bring together a lot of strength to reconstruct their lives.


* Marcio Seidenberg is a journalist and collaborator with Organização Civil de Ação Social (OCAS Magazine).