SÃO PAULO, Brazil – An elevated highway snakes above the crowded cityscape, its concrete pillars cutting through tightly-packed apartments to link east and west. To residents, the road is known simply as “minhocão,” or big worm, an apt nickname for a beast that dominates São Paulo with its hulking presence.
Yet in the shadows below the highway, an unlikely community has emerged in recent years. Drawn by the shelter of the overpass, homeless families erect tents and huddle under blankets, a population swelling as rising rents drive more onto the streets. Authorities estimate over 34,000 now sleep rough in the city, a 31 percent surge since the pandemic began.
Traditional relief efforts like soup kitchens are overwhelmed by the crisis. So this year, the city turned to a novel solution: villages of micro-homes. In the hardscrabble neighborhood of Canindé, 20 families inhabit rows of shipping container-like boxes. Though just 18 square meters, each module provides a space to call home.
A new playground connects the tiny homes, filled with laughing children under their parents’ watchful eyes. By year’s end, São Paulo plans 1,000 such communities, housing some 4,000 people. “It’s Housing First,” said Secretary Carlos Bezerra Junior, offering stability as the first step toward self-sufficiency.
For now, the villages provide a refuge from the streets for Brazil’s growing homeless ranks. But whether the modular homes can lift families from the shadows of the minhocão remains to be seen.