SÃO PAULO — Calling it a humanitarian crisis, a Catholic priest who works with the homeless in São Paulo has been on a campaign against fear of poor people. His crusade has attracted the attention of federal lawmakers, who may approve a bill prohibiting architecture hostile to homeless people in public areas across the country.
In November, a lower house commission approved a bill, dubbed “Father Julio Lancellotti,” that prohibits the use of hostile construction techniques and physical equipment to distance and restrict the use of public spaces by homeless people.
For Lancellotti, the priest known as Father of the Poor for his work with the homeless, unfriendly architecture toward the homeless and campaigns against the donation of alms are spreading across the country.
“This aggressiveness toward homeless people serves to hide the fact that social programs don’t work,” the priest said in a recent TV interview.
He said he has seen sharp, architectural obstacles being placed in public areas to prevent the homeless from staying there and even sprinkler systems employed to deter people from sleeping underneath marquees.
As for the campaigns against giving money to those panhandling on the streets, the priest says the majority of poor people do not have a choice, “If begging were profitable, there would be a lot of people living off it.”
Federal representative Joseildo Ramos, who oversaw the bill at the Urban Development Commission, said hostile constructions are “hygienic” and do not recognize the problem of social inequality found in the large urban communities across the country.
“We do not act on what makes people homeless, but on what can be done so that society does not bother to have to live with them,” Ramos told journalists.
The issue made national headlines in February when Lancellotti took a sledgehammer to break rocks placed beneath an underpass in São Paulo to keep homeless people from sleeping there.
Since then, priest has been regularly posting on his social media photos of places across the country where barriers have been set up to deter the homeless from seeking shelter.
Lancellotti said these measures don’t fight poverty, but rather criminalize the poor. “We have to move from hostility to hospitality,” he said.