Everything ends in pizza


If there is such a thing as reincarnation, Shirley wants to come back in her next life as a rich man. Nobody cares about a poor women, she says. When talking about how the building that is home to 36 families is going to be taken away from them this March, Shirley laughs and says a popular Portuguese phrase, “everything ends in pizza.” The expression is usually used when talking about corruption in politics.

I spent my yesterday with this beautiful mother of three. Not long ago, Shirley needed a place to stay. Her longtime friend told her she could have his room in one of the illegally occupied buildings.




When I first met Shirley she was doing laundry. As she hung articles of clothing on the line, she says that she doesn’t get to relax on Christmas Eve like the rich. She has work to do.

Shirley has a lot to say. As I sat in her cramped room, trying not to get in her way, her talking rarely stopped. I didn’t have a translator at this time. She spoke slow, trying to let me understand. She constantly gestured to the ring on her finger, indicating she was talking about her husband who was at work.  That is by far the hardest part of international journalism for me. I wanted nothing more than to be able to understand what Shirley wanted to tell me.

I leave in a couple of hours to attend a Christmas dinner in the building.

On this Christmas away from my family, I am so glad I get to see another one together.

Take care,




The building with no name


Yesterday I spent my afternoon with a seven-member family squatting in a downtown São Paulo building.

The family sleeps in a room with their belongs piled high against the wall due to their limited space and multiple members. The father of the five children, Juan, came to São Paulo from Chile in 1984 and has not been able to get better housing because of a lack of appropriate paper work and because of the high prices of the housing near his place of work.

Along with the seven member family in the single room, they also have a dog named Bella.

Along with the seven member family in the single room, they also have a dog named Bella.


I mentioned in a previous post that this building is not affiliated with the Roofless Movement. This building is different in a few ways.

This building is not as organized as the Prestes Maia and the Mauá building that have security cameras, makeshift arcades and small convenience stores. It’s also is nameless. This is because the people will be forced to evacuate by authorities in March and feel no need to get settled before they have to leave.


Another difference is that this building has rules. People can be told to leave for shouting at their families too often or not sending their kids to school, among other reasons. But, before anyone is kicked out, the members of the building try to help them first.

As the leader of the building, Julianna said she doesn’t want to see anyone that they kicked out of the building on the street.

I was invited to Christmas dinner tomorrow with the largest family in the building. Should be a great way to spend my holiday away from home.

Happy holidays all,


São Paulo’s city squatters

20121222_SPIEHS_Roofless_DeskYesterday, I went to three of the many abandoned buildings of São Paulo that are now occupied by squatters. The Mauá building (which I visited on Wednesday) and the Prestes Maia building are the most well known buildings of the Roofless Movement in São Paulo. The Prestes Maia is the largest squatted high rise in South America. There have been as many as over 400 families at a time in the 22-story building.

20121222_SPIEHS_Roofless_StairBikeI also went to a building that is occupied by squatters but isn’t affiliated with the Roofless Movement. The leader of the building is attempting to become a part of the movement to receive more donations and attention from locals. The building has about 36 families, which is much less than the other buildings I’ve visited. Originally, the residents had been in another abandoned building but the authorities made them leave. They took over their current home and more squatters have returned to their old one.


“Who does not struggle is dead”


There are around 15,000 homeless people in São Paulo. The city also has nearly 40,000 abandoned buildings. In 2007, 200 homeless families moved into one of these abandoned buildings that had been otherwise vacant for 17 years.  Once a dapper hotel, the Mauá building’s new occupants have renovated their home and are still keeping up the building. When I arrived yesterday, the residents had just repainted for the holidays and were redoing their plumbing.


Now, the building is under fire. Authorities have tried to evict the residents of the Mauá building and over 10 other occupied abandoned buildings in São Paulo. So began the Roofless Movement. The people of the buildings and their allies have been since been fighting for legal rights to their homes and housing reform. The Mauá building occupants have proposed that the government buy the building from the owner who has ignored it for over two decades and has also racked up roughly 1.3 million dollars in unpaid taxes. They want to then convert it into affordable housing for low-income families. The buildings’ residents have endured multiple threats of the demolition of their homes.

The Roofless Movement’s mantra has become, “Who does not struggle is dead.”