In parts of southern Brazil, temperatures dropped below freezing. Severe cold weather affects the homeless in Brazil, and authorities, activists and religious leaders are doing everything they can to reduce the suffering of these people living on the street.
Temperatures in parts of southern Brazil dropped below freezing, and dozens of cities experienced snow and freezing rain.
This is especially worrisome this year, after the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the problem of homelessness, hitting the Brazilian labor market, and the federal government cut social security spending, which was a lifeline in 2020.
Brazil's most populous state, São Paulo, donated 7,500 blankets and 1,000 sleeping bags on Thursday to organizations helping the homeless. Authorities have also turned one of the state capital's subway stations into a 400-person orphanage where they get soup.
The country's largest metropolis on Friday recorded the lowest temperature in the past five years - 4.4 C, according to the National Meteorological Institute. It was the second lowest temperature in more than two decades.
It's hard to deal with the cold
Maria Madalena Dutra, 36, was among those who shivered all night on the streets of São Paulo as she slept on blankets under an impromptu tarp. Dutra, whose day's work as a maid ended during the pandemic, said she could not find an empty place at the shelter.
“Last night the cold was so strong that we lit a lighter in our hands to keep warm, but it didn’t work. It hurt yesterday,” she said. "Temperature is not the only problem. The situation gets worse when it is cold, windy and raining at the same time."
Cold days are yet to come
Cold temperatures are expected to last until the weekend before gradually rising, according to the Meteorological Institute.
In the highlands of southern Brazil, temperatures can drop to -10 C. The cold wind makes the cold air even more unbearable.
State governments have supplied gyms with donated bedding. The state of Parana has begun distributing tens of thousands of blankets and has established temporary shelters. The government of the southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul ran a blanket distribution on Friday.
Christian Braga, founder of the nonprofit Group of Social Attitude, which provides food and blankets for the homeless in São Paulo, believes there are more than double the number of people on the streets this year as a result of the pandemic. He began collecting blankets from friends in 2016 when four people died of cold.
“It seems paradoxical: people are dying of cold in a tropical city in a tropical country like Brazil,” he said. "It shows how we as a society have not been able to join forces to solve problems."