Rio de Janeiro.- This Brazilian metropolis’ world-famous Sambadrome Marques de Sapucai, which each year hosts several days of colorful samba-school parades during the Rio Carnival, is leaving pageant and spectacle behind and serving as a homeless shelter during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Starting Monday, this monumental cement structure will provide sleeping quarters and medical care for nearly 400 «sin techo,» who are deemed a high-risk group for the coronavirus because of their unhygienic living conditions on Rio de Janeiro’s streets and poor nutrition.
Built by late famed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in 1984 in just 120 days and also known as the Passarela Professor Darcy Ribeiro, Rio’s famed Sambadrome is best known for hosting the annual carnival’s showcase event but also has served as a staging ground for concerts by legendary rock bands like The Rolling Stones and Black Sabbath.
A venue with a 72,500-person seating capacity, it consists of a 700-meter (2,300-foot) runway that is bounded on either side by tall bleachers and ends in an area known as Praça da Apoteose (Apotheosis Square).
The space under the Sambadrome’s giant stands serves as classrooms for public-school students when not in use for Carnival or other special events, although desks and other furniture have been replaced by beds for the homeless amid the Covid-19 crisis.
«They can have a shower here and take care of their bodily hygiene; they’ll receive a personal hygiene kit with a toothbrush, soap and toothpaste and a multi-disciplinary technical team will accompany them,» Jucelia Oliveira Freitas, the city government’s social welfare and human rights secretary, told Efe, referring to a team of educators, psychologists and other professionals who will be providing assistance to those taking refuge at the shelter.
The installations were sterilized prior to the installation of the beds and sinks were placed at the entrance to the complex to promote good hygiene.
Each room is equipped with between six and seven beds that are far enough away from one another to ensure proper social distancing and will be ventilated by at least two fans.
The first unit with a capacity for 128 adult men is ready to be occupied, while the work of adapting two other units is to be completed by the end of this week.
The second unit will have 144 spaces for women (including pregnant women) and children, while a third unit is being set up to house 120 elderly individuals.
In total, the Sambadrome will provide refuge for some 400 people currently living on the streets of Rio de Janeiro.
The Rio city government does not provide precise figures on its homeless population, although in 2018 it estimated there were around 5,000 and other earlier studies put the number in the Cidade Maravilhosa at around 15,000 in 2016.
«We’ve already received 3,400 street people in our network,» Oliveira Freitas said. «With all these new shelters being constructed, we’re going to have an idea more or less of how many street inhabitants there are in Rio. At this moment we don’t have the exact number,» the official said.
Although the homeless are a high-risk population, the city government will not obligate anyone to relocate to the shelters.
Municipal officials, however, know from past experience that people come of their own accord because these spaces not only offer a roof and bathing facilities but also «new and clean clothing, towels and three meals a day, so they can be protected during this pandemic.»
But homeless people who have tested positive for the novel coronavirus will not be allowed at the Sambadrome and will instead be sent to clinics or other spaces where Covid-19 patients must remain in quarantine until they recover.
Brazil has registered more than 4,200 confirmed Covid-19 cases and at least 136 coronavirus-related deaths, according to the Health Ministry’s latest report.
Sao Paulo state, Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous (46 million people), is the region hardest-hit by the pandemic with 1,451 confirmed cases and 98 deaths, respectively.
Next is Rio de Janeiro state, with 600 confirmed cases and 17 deaths.