Pilot Project (2020-2022): Overall Lessons

The four-phase Pilot Project “Spatial Methods in Action: Everyday Spatialities of Homelessness for Urban Sustainability” pursued two aims. It developed and tested a spatial research-method toolkit for identifying the contributions that the everyday spatialities of homelessness could offer to the UN Urban Sustainability Agenda within the framework of diverse institutional settings related to the social assistance of street dwellers in São Paulo during the Covid-19 pandemic (November 2020-April 2022). To that end, eight graduate students, involved in the first three phases of the project, acted as “mediators” in the last phase. Drawing on the training delivered by Prof. Dr. Fraya Frehse in making use of spatial methods for analytically identifying the everyday spatialities of people dwelling in the streets, the students themselves trained twenty-six practitioners in developing analogous skills. With the aid of Prof. Frehse and using the method of “problem-posing education”, developed by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, the students encapsulated the formerly collected data on the everyday spatialities of homelessness (Phase 1) and the SMUS Toolkit (Phase 2) in an eight-session training course grounded on their ethnographic immersion in the practitioners’ daily work routine. During physically mobile and fixed “exchange meetings”, both students and practitioners were encouraged to simultaneously make strange what is familiar and familiar what is strange regarding their own (pre-)conceptions about street dwellers.

The overall outcome was a unique ethnographic interchange of glances between academics and practitioners full of lessons from and for all sides. An eightfold glimpse into the liveliness of the joint process of learning and knowledge co-production may be found in the following video excerpts. They offer a snapshot of crucial moments of the knowledge exchange between practitioners, students and professional academics during the project closing seminar, which was held at the University of São Paulo on 13 April 2022.


  • Lessons for practitioners – according to students:

Spokesperson for the SMUS Student Team: Ana Carolina Martins Gil


  • Challenges and potentialities for practitioners – according to students:

Spokesperson for the SMUS Student Team: Anna Martins


  • Lessons for practitioners – according to trained practitioner from a CBO:

Spokesperson for CBO: Robson Mendonça

Former farmer who, after losing everything, dwelled in the São Paulo streets. He currently heads the State Movement of the Street Population of São Paulo, which provides meals and professional training to the city street dwellers.


  • Lessons for practitioners – according to trained practitioner from the social-assistance sector of the São Paulo Municipality:

Spokesperson for Municipality: Patricia Rodrigues

Holds a BA in Social Work and began to work as a socio-educational advisor at the Municipality in 2017, serving young people, children, and adolescents facing extreme social vulnerability. She is currently a social worker in the third sector.


  • Lessons for practitioners – according to two trained practitioners from NGO:

Spokesperson 1 for NGO: Igor Renato

A currently undergraduate student in Social Work who has been working as a socio-educational advisor for São Paulo street dwellers in the third sector since 2016.


Spokesperson 2 for NGO: Marivaldo Santos

Former street dweller, he afterwards became a community health agent and nowadays holds a BA in Social Work. Having been promoted from a social worker in the so-called Street Clinic to a technical interlocutor, he is a poet in his spare time.


  • Lessons for academics and practitioners – according to two professional academics:

Spokesperson 1 for professional academics: Dr. Maria Antonieta da Costa Vieira

As a social scientist with a PhD in Anthropology and co-editor of the first Brazilian anthology about the daily lives of homeless people in São Paulo (1992), she is a professional researcher, advisor and consultant on homelessness in Brazil.


Spokesperson 2 for professional academics: Prof. Dr. Carmen Santana

As a physician with a PhD in Psychiatry, she has coordinated university outreach projects in the field of mental health regarding homeless people, immigrants, and refugees. She is a professional researcher and advisor on mental health policies related to homelessness and social vulnerability.