Joao Nunes Peixoto Filho has overstayed at a homeless refuge in Rio de Janeiro.
Out of work since he got Hansen’s disease, or leprosy, he has no family and nowhere to go.
“I spent time on the streets,” the 52-year-old said, quietly. “At my age, I didn’t have much schooling and it’s difficult to find work.”
His dream of having his own home rests solely on being drawn by the government’s social housing programme, Minha Casa, Minha Vida (“My House, My Life”).
In the meantime, he has a bunk bed in a dormitory he shares with dozens of other men, some of whom have lived in the public shelter beneath a flyover for as long as seven years.
It is one of many similar stories in Rio, where an estimated 5,600 people live on the streets, of which more than 340 are children.
And with less than a year until the city hosts the 2016 Olympic Games, the City Hall has ramped up efforts to cut down homelessness.
“My dream is to see no one sleeping on the streets. For this to be happening in Rio is a disgrace,” said Adilson Pires, municipal secretary for social development.
Under plans announced by the City Hall this week, four new 24-hour hostels will be opened in Rio by March 2016, creating around 700 places for the homeless to get a meal, take a shower and spend a night.
The idea was inspired by London’s No Second Night Out campaign, which aims to ensure first-time rough sleepers do not spend more than one night on the streets.
The existing network of shelters for the homeless, where people can stay and receive long-term help, will also be reorganised to accommodate more.
“We have a situation in Rio where the population on the streets has increased because of various factors,” Mr Pires told the Telegraph. “We need public policies to give an alternative.”
The state secretary denied that the drive to tackle homelessness was motivated by the spotlight of hosting the Olympics but admitted the authorities were under pressure to address the issue.
“We will not have clean-up policies,” Mr Pires added. “We won’t tell people to leave or hide people.
“What we are looking to do is to adopt instruments like these hostels and shelters so that people who live on the streets have a dignified alternative.
“Every place in the world has this. What we’re saying is we are going to look to implement these hostels to offer a night’s sleep and a meal for people who are in extremely inhumane circumstances, sleeping in the middle of the street.”
The first phase of restructuring the homeless shelters is due to be finished in September while a children’s shelter will also be re-organised to offer five new units for 20 children in each.
The Plínio Marcos shelter in the north of Rio has already been recently renovated, reducing the number of places to better cater for its 52 residents.
“It’s challenging. It’s 52 different realities,” said Adriana Veríssimo, director of the shelter.
She said 18 men had left the shelter to move into their own homes or start jobs so far this year but said more investment was needed in staffing.
“All the public policies need to work to determine success: health, employment, education,” she added.
However, homeless charities have called for authorities to commit to long-term policies to help those on the street beyond the Olympics.
Joe Hewitt, spokesman for Street Child United, which is organising an Olympic-style tournament for street children in Rio, said the Games often led to a “knee jerk reaction to ‘clean’ the streets”.
He warned that without proper investment, shelters ran the risk of becoming a “revolving door to street life”.
“We welcome new shelters for the homeless of Rio and we wait to hear what safeguarding and services will be in place specifically for homeless youth,” Mr Hewitt said.
“Homeless youth desperately require long-term psychological support and opportunities in order to reintegrate into society. Hopefully this is the beginning of a long-term policy of support for the homeless that continues after the Olympics.”
For those on the street, what is lacking is help to find better opportunities.
“Many want to leave but they don’t find a way,” Jorge, 52, told Rio Invisível, a documentary project that publishes the stories of the homeless on social media.
“I would put the need for job opportunities for people on the street on the agenda. It’s the start of rehabilitation.
“We have to join forces and look for greater authorities. We have to meet this head on so they see with their own eyes the before and after, and that it’s possible to change. If we don’t take this head on, you become just another statistic.”
Terezinha Nascimento, social project manager at Emaús, a community agency that rehabilitates homeless men through training and work programmes, said the City Hall’s goal of ending homelessness in Rio would need a greater effort and investment.
“It seems to us they have this commitment but they don’t have the political force,” she said.
“The history of shelters here in the city of Rio de Janeiro is not favourable. It’s a story of a public event coming here and everyone goes to the street to collect [people].
“The City Hall needs to show us that there is a new logic but we don’t yet know.”
Emaús, which is part of the not-for-profit NGO Banco da Providencia, has spaces for 77 men to stay, receive treatment for alcohol or drug addictions and take courses to prepare them for work and independence.
Sylvia Lopes, local coordinator, added that the population of rough sleepers would increase with the Olympics as migrants arrived in Rio from neighbouring states hoping to find new opportunities.
“They don’t understand that the Olympics only lasts two weeks and so there is a large migration,” she said. “The City Hall has plans but I don’t know if it will be possible because we already have a big street population, the quantity of spaces in shelters is much less and we’re going to have a greater migration to Rio because they come here without any perspective.”
Originally published by telegraph.co.uk