SAO BERNARDO DO CAMPO, Brazil – In tents made of four sticks draped with plastic sheets, more than 6,000 Brazilian families survive on land they occupied in the town of Sao Bernardo do Campo to demand decent homes where they can better scrape through the nation’s social crisis.
What began Sept. 2 with the squatting of 500 families is today a sea of flimsy improvised tents sheltering thousands of people across an area of 60,000 sq. meters (645,000 sq. feet), property of the MZM construction company.
In just two weeks, the new inhabitants of this land abandoned by the company more than 40 years ago have won the support of the Brazilian Homeless Workers Movement (MTST), which has aided other occupations of land around Brazil this year.
“We’re facing a social crisis in our country, a tremendous social crisis where people lose their jobs but have to pay their rent” and have no way to do it, Maria das Dores Cerqueira, a member of the MTST national coordinating committee, told EFE.
At lunchtime, Geraldo Amaro da Silva, 49, got in line for his dish of food. He came to the camp nine days ago looking to improve his living conditions.
“I was renting and eating nothing but eggs... It’s not easy. No job... you know what the crisis is like here in Brazil,” he told EFE.
He said “I’m still alive because God is great,” since he suffers from diabetes and three nodules in his lungs, but nevertheless intends to bring his family here in the next few days.
To do that, he is ready to keep a campfire burning and “do anything else” to get along the best they can.
According to MTST statistics, Bernardo do Campo alone, located in the industrial belt of Sao Paulo, has more than 90,000 homeless families.
Cerqueira said the land was occupied because it wasn’t fulfilling any “social function,” and in fact “three years ago the government told the proprietor to permit that social function and in 2016 the owner was again notified.”
“While life is a privilege as we see here in Sao Bernardo do Campo and all over the country, squatting is our duty when we are homeless,” she said.
In this labyrinth of tents without electricity or running water, the sound of hammers is still heard coming from some of the few corners of the property that are still unoccupied, and where collective kitchens and more tents are being put together.
Meanwhile, Joel Santos de Carvalho asked among the plastic tents and intense heat “for a decent home such as every Brazilian deserves, that every human being deserves.”
In Cerqueira’s opinion, Town Hall treats the squatters “with a certain contempt,” and though they have sat down to talk at the same table, the negotiations seem to be going nowhere.