"There was a morning when our son asked for a glass of milk and I knew I didn't have any to give him," says Erica Lacerda de Souza. "All we had left to eat in the house was rice and farinha [toasted manioc flour]. That's not enough for a child."
The 32-year-old Brazilian and her husband, Bruce Lee Sousa, 28, had already sold both of their cars and closed their bodega because of pandemic regulations when they sent their son Henrique, then 6 years old, to live with his maternal grandmother in the east end of São Paulo.
Bills were piling up and the couple's other work — hers as a cleaner and his at a carwash — wasn't enough. When the pandemic shut down the carwash where Lee Sousa worked too they lost the house they rented and almost everything in it.
With a few changes of clothes in a backpack and nowhere to go, the two ended up living at São Paulo's downtown Barra Funda Terminal. They hoped sleeping on the floor of the busy station — a massive central hub for the city's buses, subways and trains — would be safer than staying on the streets.
That was in July 2020.
Three years later, their life has had a remarkable turnaround. For the past six months, Lacerda de Souza and Lee Sousa have lived with their son in a tiny home. They're one of 37 families in the Anhangabaú neighborhood to benefit from a new program in São Paulo called Vila Reencontro. It's one of the ways this city of 12 million is trying to help its rising number of unhoused people — an estimated 53,000 in March of this year, up from 44,300 in 2019 and 48,600 last year.
The tiny houses of São Paulo are part of a global effort to address the critical issue of finding homes for those who, because of the pandemic and other economic factors, are among the more than 150 million unhoused people around the world.
At just under 194 square feet — slightly smaller than a one-car garage — the tiny home where the family now lives gives them enough space for a joint living and bedroom, a kitchenette with a fridge, a sink and two burners for cooking and a bathroom with a hot shower. While a fully-equipped communal kitchen is still being built, families are served four meals a day — Brazilians add an afternoon coffee snack. A colorful playground sits at the center of the community, kept safe by security guards at its front gates. (Excerpt from 'A tiny house gives them hope: How a homeless family in Brazil got a fresh start’, npr.org, 2023)
Why did Erica Lacerda de Souza and her husband send their son to live with his maternal grandmother?