Considering Homelessness, Drug Addiction and Reurbanization in São Paulo

For this month’s post I have been reading about the case of the drug addicts removed from urban centers and the specific case of São Paulo’s Cracolândia (Crack Cocaine Land). When coming across the discussion, I could directly relate to a video from the Spaniard Victor García León. The title is “Las Barranquillas”, and is part of the multi-director documentary “Hay Motivo” (2004), which was part of a political project that discussed socio-economic concerns of the Spanish society just before the General Elections. This specific video focused on the Spanish drug users abandoned in that area in the outskirts of Madrid, living with little sanitation or social assistance, but with intense drug trafficking. The setting resembled a war camp, with tents and barracks sent up on dusty, non-paved streets, and lack of infrastructure. The video is available here: The final message was the difficulty of presenting solutions.


I would like to take a space-time shift and take a brief look at urban process as we are currently witnessing in 2017 in São Paulo’s discussion on Cracolândia. Instead of a dry, garbage-filed clearing occupied by homeless drug addicts such as the Spanish version mentioned above, the space in Brazil that I would like to contrast is downtown, surrounded by some modernist buildings and historic neighborhoods in the city center. The region affected is close to Luz, a metro station in the center of the capital, and those illegally occupied areas have been a constant concern for authorities. It is also part of the program of street cleanse started by the Mayor of São Paulo since the beginning of 2017. There is public support to the forced removal of the drug users from the occupied areas (Instituto Paraná Pesquisas, showing 77.5% approval ratings), even though the removal experienced in May 2017 has been considered by media in general as chaotic.


Land space has high value and is expected to increase more, despite the region not being gentrified yet (with expectation of speculative value with the changes). Projeto “Nova Luz” (2011) and a series of urban reforms planned to take place until 2025 will most probably lead to that increased value of the land.


In the metropolitan region of São Paulo, addiction to crack cocaine has been fought intensely this decade with few results, in areas away from the city center but ALSO within it. Some of the actions tried controlling or removing drug dealing. The whole operation took place on May 21st, 2017, when Metropolitan Police (Guarda Municipal Metropolitana) was accused of violent and arbitrary intervention and removal of drug users, drug traffickers, homeless people, and small commerce owners indistinctly. At the aftermath, officials renounced, the courts allowed forced hospitalization of users for treatment, and the health department was accused of not supporting drug addicts. Another administrative issue was the removal of current residents without documentation to later relocate them to another region. But the bulk of removed individuals ended up moving to another occupied square that immediately got called “New Cracolândia”.


This removal, then, is part of a repetitive process. Identical news reports exist about addicted people “invading” other neighborhoods after police interventions from 2015, during the government of the leftist Fernando Haddad (PT). The presence of those individuals in the urban space in São Paulo is yearly a concern for authorities, as visible in the continuous reference to the removal of the cracolândia on news reports.


Photos from Folha on the recent situation in São Paulo: (



“Narcotráfico se dispersa em São Paulo após violenta operação na Cracolândia.” Conectas Direitos Humanos. 5/25/2017. Web.

Ferreira, Wilson Roberto Vieira. “A Cracolândia e o documentário ‘Arquitetura da destruição.’ 5/28/2017. Web.

Jackson, Emma. Young Homeless People and Urban Space. Fixed in Mobility. New York: Routledge, 2015.

“Viciados se instalam na vizinhança após operação na cracolândia.” 4/30/2015.

“Projeto Nova Luz: São Paulo, Brasil.” Jul 2011.

“Ministra de Doria renunció a su cargo después del polémico desalojo de Cracolândia.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s