Empty old hotels. A debt of billions of reais in taxes. Cockroaches and pigeons living and reproducing in dirty abandoned rooms. This is the scenario when homeless people first arrive in a bare hotel in the center of São Paulo city. On the 8th of June, for studying reasons of one subject from college, a research field was organized to see how these residents arrange themselves in terms of water and energy supply, negotiations with the government, silence, cleaning and get to know, a little bit, their ideologies, purposes and routine.
At 9am the group of students met in front of one the most famous museums in São Paulo city: the Pinacoteca. Besides the two occupied buildings we were going to visit, we also would try to analyze features of the city space delimited for the Projeto Nova Luz, which would demolish many buildings in a bigger urbanization program. Therefore, we walked throughout the center of the city and the first occupied building we visited is known as Ocupação Mauá, and stays right in front the train and metro Luz Station, at Mauá Street.
Mr. Nelson, or just, Seu Nelson, an old black man who received us, talked about how important it is for the 237 families who live there, to stay in a place where there are several services offerings and public transportation, even though they are, mostly, in 4 or 5 people in one small room without a private bathroom. Most of them don’t have a formal job, consequently, no regular income; nor are they homeowners. To live in one of the abandoned Santos Dumont Hotel, you need to respect some rules: you can’t be noisy, exceed the five-minute shower is not tolerated, women must be respected, a professional occupation is required, as well as a certain limit of income. Drug traffic and use is also a serious cause of expulsion.
The second occupied building we visited was the Palace Hotel, abandoned since the 80’s. Its owner lives in Switzerland and has a debt in taxes for over thirty years, approximately. Nazareth, one of the residents who received us, is an artist who created an atelie and promotes soirees among the other residents, children and homeless, in which they read the poems they write themselves; besides, one room has several chairs and a projector, where they have movie sessions. Only 80 families live at the Ocupação São João, thus more organized and clean the building is, and, even though each room has its own toilet, the shower is for common use.
Both Nazareth and Seu Nelson coordinate the occupations and, although they have similar aims and fight for the same cause, they belong to different movements. Their intents though, are the same. In the center of São Paulo there are thousands of abandoned residences. These empty spaces, mostly, are old closed-door hotels, whose owners don’t pay the taxes and, at the same time, don’t intend to sell their property nor open new businesses, turning them into dead spaces. Simultaneously, thousands of people live in the outskirts, taking, sometimes, more than 3 hours to arrive to their work and, in other situations, either living under bridges or in slums without basic and sanitarian conditions.
These people are fighting for their right to housing, constitutionally guaranteed, at the same time there are potential residences downtown, next to their needs and work. Potential residences because, until Seu Nelson, Nazareth and their people arrive, they are just empty spaces, contributing to plague and conditions for the neighborhood and around degradation. When there is no one, prostitution and drug traffic take place and dominate the area. Unlike governmental measures, that prefer to build huge condominiums they call “popular housing” miles away from the nearest center, the occupying movements seek their place among and inside the urban area and its population. That’s why they try to combat the common sense that thinks they are invaders and beggars. They are, at least it’s the image they try to make of themselves, concerned citizens who look for their rights and justice, fighting against those who don’t contribute to the society by abandoning buildings and not paying taxes.