The stories of the homeless people of Rio de Janeiro are being chronicled by a Facebook page called RIO Invisível (Invisible Rio).
Creators of the page Nelson Pinho and Yzadora Monteiro, both 23, speak to the people who live on the streets of Rio, take their photograph and post the stories on the page, which has gained over 65,000 likes since launching in September. In the style of Humans of New York, Pinho and Monteiro look to transform the perceptions of Rio’s homeless population.
“We realized that the street is a passageway, and the homeless are part of that passageway but no one knew their stories,” said Monteiro. “In the beginning [RIO Invisível] wasn’t going to be just about homeless people, but also other people who are often silenced. Then we saw that they are the most silenced people, they have always been represented by other people and not themselves.”
The photos, mostly of people who live on the streets of the South Zone of Rio, are posted with a transcription of the creators’ conversation with the portrayed person, without an introduction or an intervening narrative. This is because the focus of the project is for the subjects to represent themselves, with as little intervention as possible.
“Sometimes we get messages that say: ‘but is what you posted really true?’ We don’t worry about that, we don’t doubt their stories–it was said, the meeting happened and that’s how the person wants to be represented,” explained Monteiro.
In two months of existence, the page has gained over 65,000 likes. Monteiro says the success is due to a hidden curiosity about the lives of homeless people.
“I think there was a gap to be filled, it was a voice that didn’t exist and people missed it subconsciously. They aren’t invisible, but their stories are. We receive a lot of messages saying ‘come here and talk to this homeless person, I really want to know their story.’ And we motivate people to go there and talk to them, to tear down that wall.”
With this objective, Monteiro and Pinho have launched a submissions page on Tumblr, where readers can upload their own stories and photos. They want to motivate readers to not just look for the story but have a human exchange with someone they wouldn’t usually look at twice.
“We don’t put everything we find online,” said Monteiro. “Some people don’t want to be photographed. But we go and have a conversation and get to know them.”
Of all the people Monteiro has interviewed, the one who stood out the most was a woman called Valéria. She lost her home because she left an abusive boyfriend and her story really moved Monteiro.
“Her boyfriend hit her but she took a really long time to leave him because she really liked him. And as I spoke to her I started seeing real strength in her and that really got to me. Every time I asked her something, she would ask it back to me. That’s what’s cool about it, that we are creating a horizontal relationship. It’s two people relating to each other and having a loose, spontaneous conversation.”
Below are a few of the posts as featured on RIO Invisível:
“You can call me Valéria. Oh, I don’t even know my age, I am so out of it. (…) I’ve lived here for awhile. It’s a good place, you know? Even moreso when we start remembering things. But all you can do is remember, nothing changes…
Sometimes I am in another place, inside my mind and I let my spirit work within me, understand? I forget a lot of things, I get lost. When you start to poke around, I remember but in a hurtful way. I haven’t dated in a long time. It’s not in my daily life, you know? (…) I’d like to go back to my previous rhythm, go to parties… But it’s so much hurt, so much judgement that you get confused. Until the day I saw those things were not mine any more: fights, violence. Enough!
I wish things could go back to how they were before, without the fights. I’ve run into him a few times, but nothing happened. I don’t think they’re going to any time soon. I’d like to revisit all the guys I had something with. But without all that violence towards me.
(…) My biggest desire is to live in heaven with my love. Us two. But I am so out of that situation that I don’t know if I like him any more. I must like another guy, and I’m talking about him. (…) I loved meeting you, but I’m not here today.”
While we were talking, a friend of Valéria’s came over. He said: “Do you know why she doesn’t remember much? Because she lived in hell. She lost a lot of happiness, her dream was lost.
“My name is Guilherme, I’m 20 years old. I look older, right? I’ve been living on the street for four years, but I have a home. I left because of a fight and I won’t go back again–it’s too much of a headache. Now, my best friend is Fox, my partner. I found him in the street in 2012. He started following me and never let go. He is famous because of those glasses. It was this crazy guy’s idea, he came by and said I’d get famous like that.
I’ve charmed the residents of this area. They help me a lot. A lady gave me the idea to start selling books. I get donations, read and sell. I think I’ve read over 400 books, no joke. I read everything but I always re-read the Bible. Closed it’s just a book but when you open it, it’s more than that. Once, a girl came here all depressed, I recited a psalm to her and she left smiling from ear to ear.
They’ve asked me to go steal, but I don’t think that’s right. I hope one day I reach my objective: leaving the street. Today I’ve got my documents. All I am missing is my work card.”
After recommending a few books to me, Guilherme combed Fox for the picture. – in Catete, Rio de Janeiro
“My name is Dorian, D-O-R-I-A-N. I was born on January 23, 1960. I’ve lived on the street since 1992, I was thrown out of my house a year after my father died. He was my model of a friend and a person. I never met my mother–she died when I was three. My stepmother didn’t like me, or my dad. At the funeral, while people were crying, she smiled. She got the house, the money. And I came here.
In the street, they discriminate against us, call us beggars. But we are all people. It doesn’t matter if you’re poor or rich, everyone is going to leave one day and go to the same place. My aunt was really rich, but she killed herself. Her daughter got the inheritance and now she lives in Brasília and is married to an airplane pilot. She’s doing well.
I never had any other family…I dream about change. I want to leave here, get a job, but I don’t have documents. I don’t get new ones because I don’t have anywhere to keep them. I’ve worked in a supermarket, I’ve cleaned buses and I played guitar in bars. I got food in exchange.
I was never an artist, no. I learned how to play on my own, I had those magazines with all the chords. To cheer people up I’d play Roberto Carlos, Tim Maia and even stuff in English… There’s that really nice song by John Lennon, you know it? ‘Imagine.’ They used to say I am a good singer, there were people who danced and everything. Last year I played a song to some people and everyone enjoyed it. Then, I was walking with my guitar on my shoulder, and I don’t know what happened, it slipped out of my hand and broke. I don’t have it anymore.”
Dorian wants to win the lottery. With the money he is going to buy a house, visit the whole of Brazil and ‘mess around in the United States.’ – in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro
“My name is Soraia. I am 37 years old, almost 40. I worked as a maid and I lived with this family. We spend so long taking care of someone else’s house that we miss having our own. One day I decided to leave so I could have my life. I had no idea I would be in the street for this long. I’ve been here for over a year. A very long time.
It’s bad. I’ve never been a street person. We miss family, someone to trust, to live with. Here, we talk to one or another, but I miss people who already know you–it doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad, at least they know you. Family, you know? I see a lot of people walk by, but I never saw them before. I think about going home but my clothes started getting dirty and the buses won’t stop for me.
And I don’t even remember the address, I’ll only know where it is by going. I’m not the kind of person who can remember street names, you know?”
When we took a photo of Soraia, she didn’t know what the camera was. After we took it, she asked: ‘Who is this person?’