By Chris Arsenault
BRASILIA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rio de Janeiro's homeless are being forced out of tourist areas in the middle of the night as the city hosts the Olympic Games, according to a Brazilian campaign group, but authorities said the homeless were being accommodated in shelters on a voluntary basis.
During the day, security forces have been offering to take some of Rio's estimated 5,500 homeless people to shelters far from Olympic venues, a spokesman for Project Ruas advocacy group said.
But late at night police are forcing homeless people out of the city's south zone, which is home to Copacabana beach and Olympic venues, the Rio-based group said.
"Homeless people are being coercively removed. We have received reports of beatings," Project Ruas spokesman Murillo Sabino told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"There is a sense they (government officials) are trying to clean the streets so Rio appears to have less poverty."
A spokeswoman for the Rio de Janeiro authorities said city officials regularly offered homeless people a place in shelters so they do not have to sleep rough.
"This is a common practice to accommodate the homeless. I am not aware of any (forced) removals related to the Olympic Games," the spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Rio's hosting of the Olympics has caused controversy with more than 75,000 people relocated from their homes as a result of the Olympics and other major sports projects since 2009, according to data from Rio de Janeiro's City Council.
Most of the city's homeless work in the informal economy, recycling metal and other waste among other jobs, Sabino said, citing the latest census data.
More than 60 percent of Rio's homeless were born in Rio State where most of them hail from slums were residents live precarious lives without formal property rights, Sabino said.
The majority ended up on the streets because of redundancy or family conflicts with many turning to drugs or alcohol when they no longer had a place to live, he added.
Once homeless people are removed from areas near Olympic venues and taken to other parts of the city, they often do not have the money to take public transport to the places they normally stay, Sabino said.
Rio is expected to host about 500,000 visitors during the Olympic Games which end on August 21.
The government has deployed 85,000 members of the police and military to provide security for the event.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault; Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)