In Rio, of­fice work­ers join the ranks of the home­less

Home­less pop­u­la­tion com­mon sight in tourist ar­eas

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

RIO DE JANEIRO: Vil­mar Men­donca used to be a hu­man re­sources di­rec­tor for sev­eral com­pa­nies in Brazil. Now he is home­less, sleep­ing out­doors along with thou­sands of other vic­tims of the coun­try’s eco­nomic cri­sis. Men­donca lost his job in 2015 and for a while, he lived off his sav­ings. But now, at age 58, he sleeps on a bench out­side Santos Dumont Air­port in Rio de Janeiro.

He leaves some of his stuff at a bank where he is a client, cleans up in pub­lic re­strooms and lives off food handed out by char­ity or­ga­ni­za­tions. “It is a ter­ri­ble sit­u­a­tion but I have no choice,” said Men­donca, a thin, di­vorced man who has no chil­dren, as he looks at job of­fers on his lap­top us­ing the air­port’s wifi. He wears stylish glasses, a dress shirt and nice shoes. He does not at all look like one of the thou­sands of other home­less peo­ple in this city of six mil­lion.

In late 2016, the Rio city hall said there were 14,279 peo­ple liv­ing in the street­triple the num­ber in 2013. Dozens of them have ad­vanced de­grees, in­clud­ing Men­donca, who stud­ied busi­ness ad­min­is­tra­tion in Sao Paulo. His plight re­flects the sting of a re­ces­sion that has taken Brazil’s jobless ranks up to 13.5 mil­lion peo­ple and tar­nished Rio, a city that just a year ago hosted the sum­mer Olympic Games.

“When you are like this, no one wants to come near you,” said Men­donca. Like many in his sit­u­a­tion, he has not told any­one how far he has fallen, still hop­ing it will be tem­po­rary.

Dur­ing the day he ex­er­cises, reads in cafes and book stores, posts on Face­book­where his photo shows him in a suit and tie­and goes to job in­ter­views where he com­petes against hun­dreds of younger can­di­dates. By night, he puts on simpler clothes and a hat to go un­no­ticed and stretches out on a bench out­side the air­port, near its se­cu­rity cam­eras. “I try to stay on my own so as to re­main fo­cused be­cause if I start to hang out with oth­ers, I might get into things I do not want, like al­co­hol, drugs or filth,” he said.

The home­less pop­u­la­tion is an es­pe­cially com­mon sight in Rio’s most pop­u­lar tourist ar­eas, in­clud­ing Copaca­bana and Ipanema. In the old quar­ter, groups of up to 20 home­less peo­ple take up en­tire streets ev­ery night, sleep­ing on card­board and wrapped in blan­kets.

Most are black and come from poor back­grounds. Many are drug ad­dicts, with psy­cho­log­i­cal or fam­ily prob­lems. Among their ranks is a mix of peo­ple from street ven­dors to re­tired civil ser­vants like Gil­son Alves. Alves, 69, worked for 35 years as an X-ray tech­ni­cian in Rio’s pub­lic hospi­tals. But his pen­sion pay­ments were late and he ended up sell­ing his be­long­ings and giv­ing up his rented apart­ment.

The tall, kindly look­ing man says he never had an easy life. At five, he was run over by a street car and lost a leg. Two months ago he ended up on the street and the bag con­tain­ing ev­ery­thing he owned was stolen. He was taken in by so­cial ser­vices and trans­ferred to one of the city’s 64 shel­ters, which have room for 2,200 peo­ple. “I feel sad, hu­mil­i­ated, struck down for hav­ing put in so many years and then be­ing here be­cause of this gov­ern­ment,” said Alves, who shares a room with six peo­ple of around his age.


“The sit­u­a­tion is crit­i­cal,” said Rio’s so­cial aid sec­re­tary, Teresa Bergher. Many Brazil­ians came to Rio look­ing for work when the city hosted the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. But today oil-pro­duc­ing Rio state’s cof­fers are empty, hit by cor­rup­tion, low crude global prices and the Olympic bill.

For­mer state gov­er­nor Ser­gio Cabral, whose 2007-2014 ad­min­is­tra­tion was cru­cial to pre­par­ing the World Cup and Olympics, was con­victed of em­bez­zling mil­lions of dol­lars and sen­tenced to 14 years in prison. Part of the money re­cov­ered from him was used to pay back wages to 150,000 re­tired civil ser­vants. But the ac­counts are still in the red and help for the most vul­ner­a­ble is in­suf­fi­cient. “The swift in­crease in the num­ber of home­less peo­ple in Rio is due mainly to the eco­nomic cri­sis but also to the lack of pub­lic pol­icy,” said cit­i­zens’ om­buds­man Carla Beatriz Nunes. — AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO: Home­less peo­ple take part in a weekly open yoga les­son at the Paris Square in Rio de Janeiro. —AFP

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