There is no dignity or prosperity when you are homeless, points out Brasil’s minister of Human Rights

To Brasil’s minister of Human Rights and Citizenship Silvio Almeida, homelessness is synonymous of extreme vulnerability, constant violence and a lack of basic living conditions. In an interview to G20 Brasil, Almeida stressed that increasing homelessness is a global phenomenon that has been made even worse by the pandemic—and that it requires an urgent response from governments.

05/29/2024 2:46 PM - Modified a month ago
To Silvio Almeida, Brasil’s minister of Human Rights and Citizenship, the G20 is an ideal venue for governments to deepen discussions around policies to save people from homelessness | Image: Audiovisual G20

“Being homeless means facing all the risks that are inherent to living on the streets; having to sleep on the streets; having to exist on the streets of a big city. It means that you are constantly exposed to violence,” said Silvio Almeida, Brasil’s minister of Human Rights and Citizenship (Direitos Humanos e da Cidadania) in an exclusive interview to G20 Brasil. Almeida attended the opening of a parallel event held this week in the city of Salvador, Brasil, to discuss the production of data on the homeless population in the world’s largest economies.

Almeida observed that the significant increase in homelessness is not exclusive to countries in the Global South or on the periphery of capitalism, as the minister prefers to highlight, but also in the world’s most industrialized nations. “This reveals that even in countries at the so-called center of advanced or industrialized capitalism, there are political and economic arrangements that leads to poverty and homelessness. The more the economic situation deteriorates, even in these richest countries, the situation of workers also deteriorates to the point that there is a significant increase in homelessness.”

To the minister, the Covid-19 pandemic intensified this reality, demanding governments to leverage discussions around policies that may serve as a model to address the global challenge. Almeida considers that development is at the heart of the issue, since poverty hinders economic growth.

Extending social protection

Domestic violence, drug addiction, mental illness, ethnic-racial inequality; difficulty in paying for a home. These are some of the elements that lead people to become homeless. To Almeida, these elements— identified by Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe when he coined the term necropolitics— also help to explain the scenario.

“In a nutshell: what he is calling necropolitics is a qualitative change in the way the state acts on the lives of individuals, in a way that is directly linked to the rise and rise of neoliberalism. At a certain moment in the formation of the modern state, there is a state that intervenes, providing the conditions for living and dying, and reducing the entire system of social protection," he explained.

According to Almeida, the crises lead to disputes over the public budget and to the capturing of these funds for private purposes, leaving less and less space to deal with the ills produced by capitalism—such as hunger, misery and poverty. In this scenario, he highlighted, the role of governments is to deal with the consequences of these changes, expanding the social protection system.

“A measure that does not solve the problem, but is fundamental, is to expand the social protection system—and this involves political dispute, because the tendency of the movement is precisely the opposite: to reduce the social protection system so that the budget is captured by groups that do not have the interests of working people, of the poorest people, in mind. It is necessary, at the same time, to promote a debate about how budget restrictions are increasingly producing tragedies and misfortunes,” said the minister.

Silvio used the climate and humanitarian tragedy in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul to draw attention to the urgency of re-discussing the State's capabilities, “especially given the damage that our way of living is causing to the natural environment”. “We are going to have to expand the State’s capacity to deal with this type of event,” he stated.

The Brazilian experience

Almeida highlighted that the G20 is a fundamental venue for dialogue and exchange of experiences both on the production of data and on good practices in public policies for the homeless population. “President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva is specially concerned about people on the streets, and about housing. Given the exponential growth that we have experienced in recent years in the number of people living on the streets, however, the President considered that a more forceful, direct action would be necessary to directly attack the problem.”

The minister was talking about the Ruas Visíveis (Visible Streets) program launched in April, which will be invested the equivalent of 140 million dollars (around one billion reais) in actions to guarantee rights for the Brazilian homeless population. The proposal was presented to G20 member countries and focuses on ensuring that the homeless may live with dignity. It includes social assistance measures; food security; combating institutional violence; promoting health, citizenship, education and culture; housing, work and income; and production of statistical data.

“Being homeless means not being able to take care of one’s health, one’s personal hygiene—and not having access to adequate nutrition. We need to attack the problem. It does not mean helping people to live on the streets with dignity, but building ways out. The program strives to bring together all these efforts towards ways for people to escape homelessness and lead dignified lives,” said Silvio Almeida.

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