Home Features Coronavirus crisis transforms popsicle shop into shelter for Manila's homeless

Coronavirus crisis transforms popsicle shop into shelter for Manila’s homeless

The goodness of the heart wins. A Manila eatery has transformed itself into a shelter for the homeless as Philippine authorities regulated the movement of people to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

Instead of shutting down its doors, Popburri — a eatery specialising in popsicles — has remained open, but for a different purpose — to give space for the homeless.

It has become a refuge for those with nowhere to go during the “enhanced community quarantine” in the country’s capital.



“They’d say it’s important to be clean especially during these times, but that’s easy for you and me. How about people who do not have running water?” said Camille Dowling Ibanes.

“So, we thought we’d turn this place to get [the homeless] cleaned and rested,” said the 38-year-old shop owner.

The initial plan was to transform Popburri into just sleeping quarters for street dwellers. But with the overwhelming support of the neighborhood it has also turned into a “feeding center.”

Now, the homeless can eat, shower, do their laundry, and sleep in Popburri.

Homeless people are provided with food during their stay in the eatery that have been converted into a shelter during the duration of the community quarantine in Manila. (Photo by Jire Carreon)
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Ibanes said the initiative is a community effort of customers who acted collectively and sent donations.

“When we protect the homeless, we protect us. If they are unprotected, they infect the rest of the community,” she said.

Village officials provided security and offered to buy mats as the number of homeless people staying in the shop continue to increase.

With reports that some shelters have been ordered closed due to quarantine provisions, Ibanes admitted uncertainty.

“I mean we’re not sure, we hope we have the fear gone,” she said.

“At the end of the day, if we give [the homeless] vitamin C, we try to keep their immunity up… It is practically better than them being on the street,” said Ibanes.

Instead of the one-meter social distancing protocol, the center implements “family distancing.” They have also provided methanol buckets to clean those who come to the center.

“We have ethanol, foot washing, we have masks, we have [personal protective equipment], we disinfect, we have separate plates for everybody,” she said.

People who seek shelter in Popburri prepare their sleeping mats for the night. (Photo by Jire Carreon)

People start coming in at 6 p.m. and then leave at 6 a.m. after breakfast.

“Their fear is that we’d lock them in here and stop them from working outside,” said Ibanes.

Since March 19, when Popburri opened its doors to the homeless, donations have kept coming.

“We give as we get, and it is good that whatever we have is always enough for everyone else,” she said.

“We may be small, but we serve a big God. Let’s be instruments for Him together!” read a Popburri social media post.

Ibanes said the initiative is a “small spark that reflects the love of Filipinos with each other,” adding that she is proud of how Filipinos come together and shower the project “with love and concern.”

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