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Census Shows Majority of Rio’s Homeless Do Not Use Drugs or Alcohol

For original article by Paloma Savedra in Portuguese in O Dia click here.

Public Defenders’ data will guide supportive actions, such as the issuance of documents.

Rio de Janeiro – Shelter, healthcare, and education are some of the social rights to which, according to the Brazilian Constitution, everyone should have access. But on the street the reality is far from this. To do good by these rights, the Human Rights Nucleus of the State of Rio de Janeiro’s Public Defenders’ Office completed a census in the metropolitan area of Rio, compiling a profile of the homeless population and beginning the process to their acquiring full citizenship rights.

The study refutes myths: of the 1,247 people interviewed in 32 shelters both public and private, 62% do not use drugs, 65% do not drink, and only 13% are illiterate.

Reports of illegal actions on the part of Rio’s municipal government were confirmed by the Street Population Project, which began in December with the backing of the Ministry of Justice.

For public defendor Juliana Moreira, the results of the study, which were officially announced Friday May 17, are in direct opposition to the city’s policies. “The data demystify some ideas embedded in mainstream thinking, that a majority of people on the streets use drugs. We are in favor of policies that help recover drug users, but the actions of the current municipal government have been inefficient. Furthermore, there are accounts of people’s documents being torn up during solicitations.”

Rio’s homeless suffer from lack of attention from the public sector. Photo by: Severino Silva / Agência O Dia

In addition, the census points out a serious problem: a lack of civil registration. The absence of documentation impedes access to social programs. “Registration reflects individuals’ legal existence, a fundamental condition for the exercise of citizenship. Many of the people without documentation have children, who in turn cannot enroll in school. These people are excluded from hospital care since without documents, one may not enter. They need birth certificates to gain access to the public programs offered by the State, financial assistance, and healthcare,” the defender explained.

To erradicate the factors that lead to exclusion, the Defenders’ Office made an accord with the Justice Tribunal to ease the process of documentation, and with the Ministry of Labor, mobile units will visit homeless shelters to fill out Carteiras de Trabalho (granting work rights).

In terms of healthcare, the Defenders’ Office requested that the municipal and state governments create special protocols for the homeless population. The group is also investigating the compulsory hospitalization by the mayor’s office for mental health issues.

A unique registry has been created

The census made a unique registry of the homeless population. According to the Defenders’ Office, this is a population quite volatile, and the data provided by the Municipal Secretary of Health does not count the number of people, only the number of times someone has lived in a shelter.

Unemployment, migration, flood, domestic violence, alcoholism, drug addiction, and legal trouble are some of the factors that combine to create the situation on the street. Of the 1,247 respondents, 463 are from Rio and 784 from other states. In total, 976 have some form of income, and 496 have not completed elementary school.

The public defenders have created a channel for filing complaints regarding the illegal treatment of the homeless: denunciasnudedh@dpge.rj.gov.br.