Brazil: Homeless shelter offers swimming, yoga and education

A senior citizen dances with speech and psychomotor therapist Adriana Faria Coutinho at the Paciência shelter’s senior meeting in Rio de Janeiro. (Renzo Gostoli/Austral Foto for Infosurhoy.com)

A senior citizen dances with speech and psychomotor therapist Adriana Faria Coutinho at the Paciência shelter’s senior meeting in Rio de Janeiro. (Renzo Gostoli/Austral Foto for Infosurhoy.com)

By Nelza Oliveira for Infosurhoy.com—15/12/2011

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – It would be easy to mistake the Rio Acolhedor Municipal Social Reinsertion Unit, in the Rio de Janeiro neighborhood of Paciência, on the city’s west side, for a country club.

On the nine-hectare (22.2-acre) property, which features 5,500 m2 (59,000 ft2) of building space, there are two soccer fields, an indoor sports court and two pools, one of which is close to Olympic size. The shelter offers literacy classes, general curriculum and training for construction or other manual labor-related jobs.

The shelter also offers athletic activities, such as yoga, gymnastics, soccer and martial arts. Next month, swimming and water aerobics will also be added.

Creating shelters with more attractive facilities that offer a variety of services is the latest approach by the City of Rio de Janeiro’s Department of Social Services to prepare the homeless for reinsertion into society.

Last June, the state allocated two properties in the neighborhoods of Irajá and Jacarepaguá to the Department of Social Services, and the Mayor’s Office is investing R$9 million (US$4.94 million) to build shelters similar to the one in Paciência.

“We wanted to do away with the notion of exclusion by offering opportunities and providing those housed at the shelter with as much as possible,” says Paulo César Nascimento, director of the Paciência shelter, which was inaugurated in October 2010.

The Paciência shelter has 422 beds, 350 of which are occupied.

A psychologist for employees

The staff includes 152 employees: psychologists – one of whom works exclusively with the employees to help them deal with job-related stress – social workers, education specialists, teachers, speech therapists, physical education teachers, nurses and nutritionists.

“We have to offer incentives to make the people who use the shelter want to stay, because it’s not a prison,” Nascimento says. “A homeless person might accept coming at first. But if he wants, he can have a meal and leave.”

The shelter is equipped with a clinic, cafeteria and auditorium, among other amenities.

Drug users are able to participate in support groups, such as Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous.

The shelter also has an office where the homeless can register for identification documents and enroll in social programs such as “De Volta à Terra Natal” (“Back to my Birthplace”), which enables people to return to their native cities.

“Their time at the shelter is meant to be temporary, but you can’t put a limit on the time needed to rebuild family and emotional and social bonds,” Nascimento says. “The time spent at the shelter is determined by the conditions of each individual.”

Seniors have weekly meetings

Gerson Nepomuceno, 61, used the shelter to change his life.

Every Friday morning, he participates in senior meetings, which are led by Adriana Faria Coutinho, a speech and psychomotor therapist.

“I wanted to leave the streets. I even thought about renting a room, but I didn’t have enough money,” says Nepomuceno, who quickly chose his “message of the day” from among a dozen suggestions offered by the therapist: “I don’t have everything I love, but I love everything I have.”

Ademir Treichel, Rio Acolhedor’s coordinator general who formerly worked in the financial market as a business manager, says he brought a businessman’s perspective to the project.

“We instituted rules,” he says. “The people at the shelter need and want limits.”

Treichel picked the location, approximately 70 kilometers (43 miles) from downtown Rio de Janeiro.

“The distance and the cost of making a trip to the facility deter individuals from using the shelter for coming and going, and they wind up making more of a commitment,” he says.

In the beginning, the biggest challenge was gaining the neighbors’ trust, he says.

“Nobody wants a prison, an open-air market, a cemetery or a shelter close to their home,” Treichel says.

Neighborhood children practice judo at the shelter

Treichel organized several meetings with residents, and, in order to help bring everyone together, he opened the shelter’s facilities and allowed two volunteer judo teachers to give free classes to the community’s children.

“The parents used to hold their children’s hands and walk quickly in and out,” Treichel says. “Now, they’re so comfortable that they drop their children off at the door and leave.”

Treichel says the shelter’s policy is to respect the differences among the group, treating each person individually.

This mentality led Treichel to ask Aramis Fabiano Borges, 25, to play for a soccer team for the disabled during Soccerex, the international business fair held for the sport in Rio de Janeiro.

Treichel also bought the uniform used by Borges at the Soccerex and took photos of him with Cafu, the former captain of the Brazilian national team.

“I’ve also played for the soccer team of the Niterói Association of Disabled Persons (ANDEF),” says Borges, who walks with a limp.

Major challenge: Reconnection

Reconnecting with family members is a major challenge of the project, Nascimento says.

Maria de Lourdes da Silva Carvalho, 60, who has spent six months at the shelter, says she lived on the streets even when she had a place to stay with a relative.

“I wasn’t able to adapt, so I went back to the streets,” she adds.

Nascimento says the specialists do not limit their work to helping those living at the shelter, as they often reach out to the residents’ families.

The shelter’s residents may have left home because of a traumatic event or because their addictions led to their being asked to leave.

“That’s why we thought it was important to teach rules about hygiene and group living, so the individual would be better equipped to return home,” Nascimento says.

Data regarding the work of Rio Acolhedor is still being collected, but progress has been made, Nascimento says.

“We’ve been able to bring families together and find people jobs,” he says. “Now, some come by just to say ‘thanks.’”

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  • luiz fernando.. | 2014-08-18

    Please, help me. I am homeless. I am from the interior of the country. I am educated and have a profession, but I don't have any structure. Urgently waiting for a reply.

  • andre | 2014-05-23

    I'm practically killing myself. I need to get off the streets. Please, help me. I have various skills. The separation is driving me crazy. Phone: (21) 96673-1327

  • Andréa | 2014-05-19

    I want to help an elderly man. I always see him on the sidewalk in the streets near my daughter's school. I would be very grateful if you could give him a place to stay because it tears my heart every time I pass by him, and I cry. Looking forward to your reply. Thank you.

  • fernando cesar de azevedo | 2014-04-24

    Please, I need temporary assistance! I look forward to your response.

  • carla | 2013-09-04

    do me a favor and send me the address and phone number of the shelter. I am working on a social project with the homeless, and there are many of them interested in going to the shelter.

  • Suellen | 2013-08-28

    Where is this shelter located? What is the complete address? I would like to have the opportunity to help an elderly homeless person.

    • vanessa | 2013-11-27

      Stay at Antares. You catch the train going towards Santa Cruz.

  • Daniel | 2013-06-30

    My brother is 43 and doesn't have a place to live. He is a well-behaved and intelligent man. Please let me know if there are any openings still as fast as possible! Thank you, Daniel

  • suzanna richter | 2013-02-22

    I would like some guidance: my maid’s son is 18 years old and was 5 years in prison for drug trafficking. At the time he lost the drugs from a dealer. The point is now that he’s left and returned home but is sworn to death and got back to the streets. His mother found him and he says he can't go back home – and he is right – because it would put his mother’s life and 2 siblings at risk. How can I help them? Is there any shelter where he can go and leave the streets? Thank You Suzanna

  • Patrícia Cunha da Silva de Lima | 2012-10-28

    I would like to know the shelter’s phone and telephone, next to the building where he lives in Rua Violeta, 255, Água Santa there’s a street young woman for a week, she stays in the passage of the condominium, crying loudly and screaming, some people give her food, and feed this vicious circle, some agency has to do something about this young woman. and also endanger the lives of the residents of Condomínio Chave de Ouro because she can get itn anytime if someone forgets the gate open. ...

  • [email protected] | 2011-12-21

    this is beautiful work

  • Adriana Faria Coutinho | 2011-12-17

    Good afternoon, check out our work being published on this website. This is how we encourage other countries, states and cities, by showing how possible it is to start working with a socially vulnerable population. The municipality of Rio de Janeiro, through the Department of Social Services, has been working to reduce the number of drug users and homeless people. I’m honored to be part of such work. Adriana Faria Coutinho (Speech Therapist / psychomotor specialist, facilitator at the Paciência Social Reinsertion Center – Rio de Janeiro -Brazil)

    • vbf | 2013-11-27

      This idea worked and is going forward.