Despite the coronavirus outbreak in Brazil, Luiz Renato Ribeiro Junior, who is homeless, still tries to sell candy every day in Sao Paulo, Latin America’s largest city. But lockdown policies put in place last month have made it harder for him to earn money.
“If I just stay in one place, I will have no income,” he said. “I have to hustle and try to sell my product.”
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His plight is shared by many of the city’s 24,000 homeless residents, the official tally according to the census.
But the risks are higher in Sao Paulo, the centre of Brazil’s coronavirus outbreak, which had 700 deaths and nearly 14,000 confirmed cases as of Wednesday.
As the city has shut down, organisations that would normally have catered to the poor have also been forced to vanish.
Instead, the city government has created six shelters for the homeless, including one specifically for those who are ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The state has expanded a subsidy programme for feeding the poor to include dinner, along with the lunch and breakfast currently offered, selling more than 100,000 meals per day at below one real ($0.1914) per meal.
“The total investment was of 18 million reals [$3.5m] to help the people who need it the most, who live on the streets, who are unemployed or have minimal income,” said Sao Paulo State Governor Joao Doria.
Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) has recently given medical assistance to almost 280 homeless residents, 37 of whom have shown symptoms of the disease.
Still, Sao Paulo’s homeless face significant risks from their lack of access to proper hygiene.
“Where are they going to wash their hands?” asked Julio Lancellotti, a Catholic priest who has worked with the homeless for three decades. He is urging authorities to distribute already-scarce alcohol gel for hand sanitation to the city’s homeless.
The city, which has a population of over 12 million people, says it has created seven stations where people can shower and wash.
“They already face serious risks: hunger, the cold, abandonment, contempt,” Lancellotti said. “So this [virus] is just one more threat to their lives.”