An arsenal of soap and water

Publish date 20-06-2020

by Simone Bernardi

Safe from the virus and the road.


When we learned of the first official case of Covid-19 in Sao Paulo, a metropolis of 20 million inhabitants, it was immediately clear to us that the street people - the population we have been working with for years, about 25-30 thousand people who have just a piece of cardboard to sit on and spend the day somehow - they certainly couldn't have met the first of the recommendations provided by the WHO, that of staying at home, because a house doesn't have it. And consequently, not even the second, that of washing your hands well: maybe someone could have received a bar of soap, thanks to the distribution of some organized group, but in the street there is no access to water and the bars are closed. It is also unthinkable to follow the recommendations on social distancing, because the few free food distribution points generally create large gatherings and confusion. The recommendations to defend against the coronavirus are for everyone, but, in fact, end up being practicable only for certain social classes. From a certain level down they are impossible to respect.


The mixture of reflections, doubts and fears that we have experienced and are still experiencing is not in a few lines… After thinking about it, praying and confronting the Fraternity in Turin, we decided to transform the Arsenale della Speranza into a quarantine, 24 hours on 24. On March 23, as the long line of our 1,200 guests entered, social workers and educators gathered them in groups: "Gentlemen, to try to protect us from the infection of the new coronavirus, starting today those who enter he remains there indefinitely. Although some government authorities claim that it is nothing, the health authorities tell us that this is a threat to life and, therefore, the best thing to do is to stay indoors. We do not play with fire and thanks to the experience of other places in the world, such as Italy, we know that this virus is a great danger for everyone ".

Since March 23, almost a thousand people have remained day and night in the Arsenal. Literally, a people. The Arsenal, although large, obviously had to reinvent itself, transform, change its rhythm to allow hundreds of men - who normally live as "urban nomads" - to settle in one place, eat, sleep, take care of their personal hygiene and many other issues now become of fundamental importance.

From March 23 to early June, the day I write these words, we have had no serious health picture and no known case of Covid. 70 days have already passed and the danger, at least in Brazil, has not yet passed. We go forward a millimeter at a time, without going backwards, to try to do good well even in the face of what is undoubtedly the biggest unexpected that has ever happened to us in our history of hospitality.


We ask you to bring this situation to your heart too, in your homes, in your realities that are slowly recovering, with the invitation not to disperse the patrimony of solidarity and attention to the other that perhaps in this time has come out into the open. Let's not forget that the world continues to be very different depending on the areas and situations in which we live. We're on the same boat? Yes, but there are very different boats Even here in Sao Paulo, however, we are seeing that these boats - where in one there is a swimming pool and in the other one remains afloat trying to throw out the water - have approached a bit and from one we started to pass things to the other, maybe we tied together not to sink. This sharing is a common heritage that we cannot lose, which must be able not only to keep us afloat at this moment, while the storm is not over yet, but to ensure that the world can truly change.

In these months of confinement we are seeing that if this solidarity is possible between people who come from the street, from prisons, from situations of violence and even very large margins, if it is possible to live in 1,000 while maintaining a harmony, then it is also possible for many other situations. Solidarity saves, solidarity brings us out of isolation, not only now, because we must protect ourselves from a new enemy, but because the enemy is precisely the fact of being isolated in a reality in which everyone thinks only of himself. Think about the other because thinking about the other means thinking about myself. From the Arsenale della Speranza I wish you "tudo de bom", all the good possible. Let's keep united in communion and prayer.




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