"Nobody Occupies because They Want to, They Occupy because They Have a Need"

Accused of extorting residents, Preta Ferreira, leader of homeless movement, spent more than 100 days in jail

Paulo Gomes Marlene Bergamo
São Paulo

"Nobody occupies [abandoned buildings] because they want to, they occupy because they have a need," shouted actress and singer Preta Ferreira as she left the female prison in Santana, northern São Paulo, on Thursday (10). "I'm innocent."

Janice Ferreira Silva, also known as Preta Ferreira, is one of the coordinators of the Homeless Movement of downtown (MSTC) and recently spent 108 days in prison. Four days after receiving habeas corpus and being released, she and her mother, Carmen da Silva Ferreira, talked to Folha about the movement, its work, accusations, and the arrest.

Preta Ferreira, leader of Homeless Movement . Foto Marlene Bergamo/Folhapress. 017 - SELENE 576274

Preta, 35, and Carmen, 59, deny criminal practices in their work for the right to housing, guaranteed by the Constitution.

The two are the target, along with others, of Cássio Conserino, a prosecutor points to notorious cases of criminal conduct in occupied buildings to conclude that the practice is common.

He alleges that occupation movements in downtown São Paulo are part of a criminal association that charges rent under threats, embarrasses people to participate in pro-PT riots, and maintains ties with the PCC criminal faction.

Last year, police received an anonymous report of extortion of residents of the Wilton Paes de Almeida building. The building collapsed in downtown São Paulo during a fire in the early hours of May 1, 2018, leaving seven dead. Another homeless movement, MLSM, occupied the building, which had been abandoned for years.

The complaint led to the provisional arrest of Preta and her brother, Sidney. In August, the court requested the arrest of her mother, who did not surrender and obtained habeas corpus in early October.

Absolved twice in a similar process, Carmen is a reference as the leader of successful occupations in the state capital. The MSTC model in places such as the former Cambridge Hotel and the Ninth of July Occupation was recently featured at the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

"Because I am black, northeastern, I cannot belong to São Paulo? The indigenous cannot belong to São Paulo? The quilombola? The LGBT? My rights and duties I exercise here," she said. "We are not a minority; we are treated like minorities."

The daughter of a military member and a maid, Carmen was born in Bahia, married at 17. To get rid out of an abusive relationship, she came to Sao Paulo at 32, leaving her eight children with her father.

When she arrived, she was unemployed and lived on the street. In a hostel, she met members of housing movements. "It was the first place of political organization I attended. Housing is a mainstay of the struggle for other rights."

With the MSTC, created in 2000, she says she seeks for people to belong to the city.

Although the movement begins an occupation with an illegal act—the invasion—the first occurrence report opens the legal path, between provisional documents and court decisions, for the occupation to thrive.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon

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