Drive along the roads near us in Sao Paulo, and you’ll see many, many people living “on the streets,” almost literally, as they pitch their makeshift camps on the sidewalks immediately beside the road, or simply lie on the sidewalk with no protection from the daylight or inclement weather (and the rain and lightning here is phenomenal almost every afternoon).
I initially thought the street dwellers were refugees from the favela fire of September, but our faxineira Dona Marie and our Portuguese language teacher Ana Luciá informed me that they are, in fact, crack addicts.
In January, city officials announced that they would round up crack addicts from the street and force them to seek treatment. I say, good idea. I also say, good luck, as the round-ups will be performed by social service agencies, and not the police. Drug rehab centers currently have space for 700 clients; there are an estimated 1 million users in Brazil.
I think I understand the addiction: many of these people live in extreme poverty, with little or no chance to improve their lives. If they can make life a bit more bearable with crack, why wouldn’t they? They have no other options. According to the newspaper, individual hits of crack are cheap, available for as little as $1.10, and highly addictive, leading addicts to get high as much as a dozen times a day. The addiction crisis has created powerful drug gangs, and a surge in violent crime and prostitution.
The once-grand Luz district of Sao Paulo is now called Cracolandia (Crackland), where addicts can buy crack from peddlers on the sidewalk, and where you can find inert bodies lying in a heap asleep on the sidewalks during broad daylight.
Outside our condo walls, we can see three people who have set up camp along the main road behind us: a couple and a lone man. Their heads are immediately next to a major thoroughfare, separated by a small metal fence.
They’ve turned the entire area into one huge garbage pit, tossing the garbage over the walls or leaving it strewn across the grass (though in the photo below much of it had been blown away by the storm), and have made it unsafe for us to walk in their vicinity at night (we don’t have anything against these folks, but we’ve heard plenty of cautionary stories of their mindless attacks on people in search of money for more drugs). I feel for the pedestrians who have to walk past them after disembarking from the buses along the road. And the alley nearby reeks of human waste. On garbage collection nights, they can be seen scrounging through the bags on our street, seeking what? Food, items to sell, who knows?
As I was taking photos of the lean-tos outside our window during a recent rainstorm, I looked up to see a rainbow arcing from downtown to the street beyond, ending within reach of the street dwellers below.
If only that rainbow heralded hope and a new life for these people!