Global Human Rights Defence

Pandemic and social vulnerability: the situation of the homeless people in Brazil
Picture: Davidson Luna/Unsplash

Author: Angela Aparecida Roncetti Souza

As emergency shelters and encampments emerge across Brazilian cities, the public has been confronted with a more visible homeless population as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The homeless people situation in Brazil has not been a recent phenomenon, but a situation that originated in the process of industrialization1 that occurred between the years of 1930 to 1980. However, historical causes2 have been identified for the permanence of populations in extreme poverty in Brazil, with strong rates of social, economic, and political differences that endanger the democratization of society (Fiorati, et al, 2014). 

Regardless of the precarious condition that this group has always experienced, the coronavirus pandemic has made it even more dramatic, accentuating the inequality and exposing a large number of people to a precarious situation.

According to data collected by the Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA)3 released in March 2020, in Brazil, before the start of the pandemic, more than 222,000 people were living homeless. Nonetheless this number being gigantic, it does not represent a concrete number, once this research only considered the number of people who filled in some data on some of the government’s social programs. (IPEA, 2020)

In Brazil, the homeless population is characterized as a heterogeneous population group that has in common extreme poverty, interrupted or weakened family ties, and the inexistence of regular conventional housing (Brazil, 2009).4

Social Invisibility

Outside of the Government and society’s eyes, the Brazilian homeless population is currently living in an extremely inhumane, precarious, and completely stigmatized scenario. Excluded from almost every statistic, this population seems not to be counted even on the ruler that measures the dimension of the pandemic in the country (Assunção, 2021). This public invisibility, where many become imperceptible to society’s eyes, ends up leading to the people’s “exclusion” of the world, transforming the individual into an invisible person in the social environment. And that’s the moment when they turn out losing their essence as a subject of rights.

This historical invisibility, therefore, seems to have worsened in the biggest health emergency of the century. Across the country, the calculation of the number of homeless people infected by the new coronavirus is only based on data shared by some social equipment, such as “Clinic on the Street” (Consultório na Rua)5 or “Centro Pop”6(Assunção, 2020).

Furthermore, it is interesting to emphasize that on a national level, there wasn’t a single action concerning this population since the beginning of the pandemic, which led to each city the responsibility for putting together its own strategy (Satie, 2021).

Amidst all the numerous and robust challenges that arise in the face of this overwhelming crisis, the impossibility of properly facing the crisis by these individuals constitutes a tragedy in itself. In a society severely marked by inequality, as is the case in Brazil, this issue reaches alarming proportions.

Covid-19 and Human Rights Violation

In Brazil, the protection of the homeless population is regulated by decree number 7,053. Also known as the National Policy for the Homeless People7, the decree has as its core concepts the respect for the dignity of the human person, the respect for life and citizenship, as well as the respect for the differences (article 15). Such concepts, which are similar to the ideals preached by the Brazilian Constitution8 (articles 1st, 3rd, and 5th), are also analogous to those brought by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 19489 (article 25, I), the most prominent legislation regarding human rights:

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control (UNITED NATIONS, 1948).

However, for those who make the streets their home, these rights become even more distant, often non-existent, leading to a reality completely distinct from what is explicitly or implicitly represented in the national Constitution or international legislation.

Consequently, universal rights such as water use and obtaining food are constant challenges for those who live and survive in public places. While it should be a fundamental right guaranteed to everyone, these rights are sublimated and are now further exacerbated. The failure to recognize their rights puts this population in an increasingly vulnerable situation. As rights are interdependent and indivisible, the violation of one affects the other, generating inequities and harming health, which are important constitutional rights for human survival (De Paula, et al, 2020).

“Unfortunately, the homeless population is not a priority to the [Brazilian] government” – Rosângela Nascimento

In an interview conducted by Global Human Rights Defence with the Coordinator of the National Movement for Homeless People (MNPR), Rosângela Nascimento exposed that the homeless population in Brazil has not been a priority for the government. The same understanding was shown by a study carried out by Honorato and Oliveira10 in the beginning of 2020, which stated that no guidance was given by the federal government on care and actions strategies to deal with this population, despite the evident risk of contamination and transmission of the virus (Honorato, Oliveira, 2020).

In the same context, the aforementioned research indicates that most of the initiatives taken in the municipalities do not come from official orders of the municipal government, but from the professionals themselves, who, working on the front line with the homeless population, individually researched measures and care necessary to prevent contamination, in order to meet the specific demands of this population (Honorato, Oliveira, 2020).

Taking into account this scenario, we can verify almost the complete inefficiency of the measures carried out by the Government since the beginning of the pandemic in 2020. 

“In a national level, the homeless population was put out of the priority group to get the vaccine” – Rosângela Nascimento

Rosângela also brought another great problem that the homeless population has been facing during the pandemic: the access to vaccination. According to Rosângela, at the national level, the homeless population was put outside the priority group for access to the vaccine, which demanded an intense mobilization from the National Movement for Homeless People (MNPR) with the regional governments so they could be included as priority groups, and now vaccinated.


“It’s not just about arriving in political spaces and talk about the suffering of those in the streets […], it’s about debating and discussing inclusive public policies that meet the needs of the homeless population” – Rosângela Nascimento

In conclusion, it can be verified that homelessness not only indicates a State failure to guarantee access to safe, affordable, and adequate housing for all, but it violates as well a number of other human rights (OHCHR, 2021), requiring positive measures by the States to prevent and eliminate it. In this way, we can point that the main assistance needed for this specific group is the implementation of social programs, attempting to rescue dignity, and the full exercise of their citizenship (Santos, 2018).


Assunção, C. (2020, september 9th). Brasil não sabe quantas pessoas em situação de rua foram contaminadas pela covid-19. Rede Brasil Atual. Retrieved on June 22nd, 2021, on

Decree number 7.053. (2019). Institui a Política Nacional para a População em Situação de Rua e seu Comitê Intersetorial de Acompanhamento e Monitoramento, e dá outras providências. Brasília. Retrieved on June 15th, 2021 on

Dos Santos, M. P. (2018). Um olhar sobre os sujeitos envolvidos na política municipal de atendimento à população em situação de rua de Vitória: caminhos para a reinserção social. Master thesis, Vitória School of Law, Vitória, ES, Brazil. 

Fiorati, R. C., Carretta, R. Y. D., Kebbe, L. M., Xavier, J. J. S., & Lobato, B. C. (2014). Inequalities and social exclusion among homeless people: a Brazilian study. Am Int J Social Sci, 3(6), 5-14.

Honorato, B. E. F., & Oliveira, A. C. S. (2020). Homeless population and COVID-19. Revista de Administração Pública, 54, 1064-1078.

IPEA. (2020). População em Situação de Rua em Tempos de Pandemia: Um Levantamento de Medidas Municipais Emergenciais. Retrieved on July 1st, 2021 on

Paula, H. C. D., Daher, D. V., Koopmans, F. F., Faria, M. G. D. A., Lemos, P. F. S., & Moniz, M. D. A. (2020). No place to shelter: ethnography of the homeless population in the COVID-19 pandemic. Revista Brasileira de Enfermagem, 73.

Satie, A. (2021, January 13th). Mais mulheres e crianças engrossam população de rua, diz padre Julio Lancelotti. CNN Brasil. Retrieved on June 27th, 2021 on

United Nations. (1946). Universal declaration of human rights. Retrieved on June 17th, 2021 on

United Nations. (2021). Homelessness and human rights. United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner. Retrieved on June 15th, 2021 in


  1.  In the authors’ opinion, the deterioration of the labor market, the weakening of work relationships, and continuing unemployment can be listed as the origin of an increase in those social segments that show conditions of exclusion, boosting the generation of the extreme poverty that we see now.
  2.  The authors list the strong rates of social, economic, and political differences as the main historical causes for the permanence of this population in such a misfortune place.

  3.  The Institute for Applied Economic Research (Ipea) is a public institution that provides technical support to the federal government with regard to public policies: fiscal, social and economic. Additional information about the research can be found in the following website: (In Portuguese).

  4. A População em situação de rua no brasil é delimitada pelo decreto 7056/09, podendo ser acessado no seguinte link: (In portuguese)

  5. Clinic on the Street is an action instituted based on the National Primary Care Policy, and its objective is to expand the access of the homeless to health services.

  6.  Cento Pop is a Brazilian specialized center for the homeless population where they can have access to basic health care. 

  7.  Available at (In Portuguese).

  8.  Available (In English and at (In Portuguese).

  9.  Available at

  10.  Available at

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Coordinator - Tibet Team

Mandakini graduated with honours from the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. Her team analyses the human rights violations faced by Tibetans through a legal lens.

Kenza Mena
Team Coordinator -China

Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

Since September 2021, she has been the coordinator of Team China at GHRD, a country where violations of human rights, even international crimes, are frequently perpetrated by representatives of the State. Within Team China, awareness is also raised on discrimination that Chinese women and minorities in the country and, more generally, Chinese people around the world are facing.

Kenza believes that the primary key step to tackle atrocities perpetrated around the world is advocacy and promotion of human rights.

Aimilina Sarafi
Pakistan Coordinator

Aimilina Sarafi holds a Bachelor’s degree cum laude in International Relations and Organisations from Leiden University and is currently pursuing a Double Legal Master’s degree (LLM) in Public International Law and International Criminal Law at the University of Amsterdam.
She is an active advocate for the human rights of all peoples in her community and is passionate about creating a better world for future generations. Aimilina is the coordinator for the GHRD team of Pakistan, in which human rights violations of minority communities in Pakistan are investigated and legally evaluated based on international human rights legal standards.
Her team is working on raising awareness on the plight of minority communities such as women, children, religious and ethnic minorities within Pakistan.

Lukas Mitidieri
Coordinator & Head Researcher- Bangladesh

Lucas Mitidieri is currently pursuing his bachelor’s degree in International Relations at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ). As the GHRD Bangladesh Team Coordinator, he advocates for human rights and monitors violations across all minorities and marginalized groups in Bangladesh. Lucas believes that the fight for International Human Rights is the key to a world with better social justice and greater equality.

Nicole Hutchinson
Editorial Team Lead

Nicole has an MSc in International Development Studies with a focus on migration. She is passionate about promoting human rights and fighting poverty through advocacy and empowering human choice. Nicole believes that even the simplest social justice efforts, when properly nurtured, can bring about radical and positive change worldwide.

Gabriela Johannen
Coordinator & Head Researcher – India

Gabriela Johannen is a lawyer admitted to the German bar and holds extensive knowledge in the fields of human rights, refugee law, and international law. After working for various courts and law firms in her home country, she decided to obtain an LL.M. degree from Utrecht University where she studied Public International Law with a special focus on Human Rights. Additionally, while working as a pro-bono legal advisor for refugees, she expanded her knowledge in the fields of refugee law and migration.

Gabriela is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD India, a country, she has had a personal connection with since childhood. Her primary focus is to raise awareness for the severe human rights violations against minorities and marginalized groups that continue to occur on a daily basis in India. By emphasizing the happenings and educating the general public, she hopes to create a better world for future generations.

João Victor
Coordinator & Head Researcher – International Justice

João Victor is a young Brazilian lawyer who leads our team of International Justice and Human Rights. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Law from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and possesses over 5 years of experience in dealing with Human Rights and International Law issues both in Brazil and internationally, including the protection of refugees’ rights and the strengthening of accountability measures against torture crimes.

João has an extensive research engagement with subjects related to International Justice in general, and more specifically with the study of the jurisprudence of Human Rights Courts regarding the rise of populist and anti-terrorist measures taken by national governments. He is also interested in the different impacts that new technologies may provoke on the maintenance of Human Rights online, and how enforcing the due diligence rules among private technology companies might secure these rights against gross Human Rights violations.

Célinne Bodinger
Environment and Human Rights Coordinator

As the Environment and Human Rights Coordinator, Célinne is passionate about the health of our planet and every life on it.

Angela Roncetti
Team Coordinator and Head Researcher- South America

Angela holds a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B) from Vitória Law School (FDV) in Brazil. Her research combines more than five years of experience conducting debates and studies on the rights of homeless people, the elderly, children, and refugees. Besides that, she also volunteers in a social project called Sou Diferente (I am Different in English), where she coordinates and takes part in actions aimed at the assistance and the emancipation of vulnerable groups in the cities of the metropolitan area of Espírito Santo state (Brazil).

Lina Borchardt
Team Head (Promotions)

She is currently heading the Promotions Team and University Chapter of Global Human Rights Defence. Her background is the one of European and International Law, which I am studying in The Hague. She has previously gained experience at Women´s Rights organizations in Germany, the Netherlands and Turkey over the past years.
She has been working for Global Human Rights Defence in the Netherlands since 2020. Her focus now is concentrated on the Human Rights and Minorities Film Festival and the cooperation of GHRD with students across the country.

Pedro Ivo Oliveira
Team Coordinator and Researcher

Pedro holds an extensive background in Human Rights, especially in Global Health, LGBTQ+ issues, and HIV and AIDS. He is currently finishing his Bachelor’s Degree in International Relations and Affairs at the Pontifical Catholic University of Minas Gerais, Brazil. Moreover, he successfully attended the Bilingual Summer School in Human Rights Education promoted by the Federal University of Minas Gerais and the Association of Universities of the Montevideo Group. Besides, Pedro Ivo has a diversified professional background, collecting experiences in many NGOs and projects.

With outstanding leadership abilities, in 2021, Pedro Ivo was the Secretary-General of the 22nd edition of the biggest UN Model in Latin America: the MINIONU. Fluent in Portuguese, English, and Spanish, Pedro Ivo is the Team Coordinator and Head Researcher of the Team Africa at Global Human Rights Defence. Hence, his focus is to empower his team from many parts of the world about the Human Rights Situation in the African continent, meanwhile having a humanized approach.

Alessandro Cosmo
GHRD Youth Ambassador
(European Union)

Alessandro Cosmo obtained his B.A. with Honors from Leiden University College where he studied International Law with a minor in Social and Business Entrepreneurship. He is currently pursuing an LL.M. in Public International Law at Utrecht University with a specialization in Conflict and Security. 
As GHRD’s E.U. Youth Ambassador, Alessandro’s two main focuses are to broaden the Defence’s reach within E.U. institutions and political parties, as well as mediate relations between human rights organizations abroad seeking European funding. 
Alessandro believes that human rights advocacy requires grass-roots initiatives where victims’ voices are amplified and not paraphrased or spoken for. He will therefore act on this agenda when representing Global Human Rights Defence domestically and abroad

Veronica Delgado
Team Coordinator and Researcher- Japan, Sri Lanka & Tibet

Veronica is a Colombian lawyer who leads our team of Japan, Sri Lanka and Tibet. She holds a master’s degree in Public International Law from Utrecht University. She has experience in Colombian law firms. Here she represented clients before constitutional courts. She also outlined legal concepts to state entities such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ombudsman’s Office on international law issues.

Veronica has an extensive research background with subjects related to public international law. She worked as an assistant researcher for more than two years for the Externado University of Colombia. Here she undertook in-depth research on constitutional, business, and human rights law issues. She was involved with consultancy services with the Colombian Army regarding transitional justice. 

Wiktoria Walczyk
Coordinator & Head Researcher (Nepal & Indonesia)

Wiktoria Walczyk has joined GHRD in June 2020 as a legal intern. She is currently coordinator and head researcher of Team Nepal and Indonesia. She has an extensive legal knowledge concerning international human rights and is passionate about children’s and minorities’ rights. Wiktoria has obtained her LL.B. in International & European Law and she specialised in Public International Law & Human Rights at The Hague University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. Moreover, she is pursuing her LL.M. in International & European Law and focusing on Modern Human Rights Law specialisation at the University of Wroclaw in Poland. In order to gain an essential legal experience, Wiktoria has also joined Credit Suisse’s 2021 General Counsel Graduate First Program where she is conducting her legal training and discovering the banking world. She would like to make a significant impact when it comes to the protection of fundamental human rights around the world, especially with regard to child labour. 

Fairuz Sewbaks
Coordinator and Head Researcher

Fairuz Sewbaks holds extensive legal knowledge regarding international human rights, with a specific focus on human rights dealings taking place in continental Africa. She holds a bachelor’s degree from The Hague University in public international law and international human rights and successfully followed advanced human rights courses at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria. She furthermore participated in the Istanbul Summer School where she was educated about the role of epidemics and pandemics in light of human rights.


Fairuz is the coordinator and head researcher for GHRD Africa. Her primary focus is to establish and coordinate long-term research projects regarding the differentiating human rights dealings of vulnerable and marginalized groups in continental Africa, as well as conducting individual research projects.

Priya Lachmansingh
Coordinator and Head Researcher, Political Advisor
(Asia & America)

Priya Lachmansingh is currently pursuing her bachelor’s degree in International & European
Law at the Hague University of Applied Science.
As GHRD’s Asia & America human rights coordinator and GHRD Political Advisor, Priya’s
prominent focus is to highlight human rights violations targeted against minority and
marginalized groups in Asia and America and to broaden GHRD reach within Dutch political
parties and as well seek domestic funding.

Jasmann Chatwal
Team Coordinator & Head Coordinator: North America

Jasmann is a political science student at Leiden University who joined GHRD in May 2021 as an intern in team Pakistan. Now, she is the team coordinator for North America and is responsible for coordinating the documentation of human rights violations in USA, Canada, and America.