Home Equality & Justice Manila’s homeless back in the streets despite pandemic

Manila’s homeless back in the streets despite pandemic

Homeless people who were earlier given temporarily shelter by church groups and institutions are back in the streets of Manila as the schools they stayed in prepare to resume classes.

For more than a week already, Johny Suza, 48, has been seeking shelter in village halls and abandoned structures after he left his temporary shelter in Manila’s Paco Catholic School.

He would seek friends who serve as guards of village halls and buildings to let him in for the night, saying he would rather beg for shelter than expose himself to the elements.

But he said there were many occasions that he would sleep on the pavement with other homeless people because he could not find an open building or a welcoming guard.

On June 14, the street dwellers started leaving the temporary shelters provided by church groups as Catholic schools across the capital prepared for the resumption of classes.

Kalinga Center, a shelter for the homeless run by the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Foundation, has earlier been ordered closed by authorities due to alleged quarantine violations.

The foundation sought the help of church institutions and schools that temporarily hosted the homeless people.

A group of homeless people wait for help in a street corner of Manila. Homeless people who were earlier given temporarily shelter by church groups and institutions are back in the streets as the schools they stayed get ready to resume classes. (Photo by Marielle Lucenio)
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Now, from housing and providing food for 400 individuals during the lockdown, the foundation prepares food for more people as the number of street dwellers continue to grow.

Authorities, however, wanted a stop to the operations of Kalinga Center.

“This is the fifth time we have been asked to transfer from one place to another,” said Society of Divine Word priest Flaviano Villanueva during one food distribution activity attended by LiCAS.news.

“It’s disheartening that you’re already helping people, but you are being shooed away,” said the priest, adding that the police would ask him and his team to transfer somewhere “away from the public eye.”

“One time the police directly told us ‘father, go where the public can’t see you,’” said Father Villanueva.

Authorities said the homeless would usually quarrel among themselves while waiting for the Kalinga Center food to arrive, but the priest said the “petty quarrel is a sign that people are getting hungry.”

Father Villanueva said the center had already spent about US$140,000 to feed Manila’s homeless since March 21.

“Grace have been provided to be able to do it, so by grace we respond to the needs of the people,” he said.

Street dwellers wash their hands before receiving food from Kalinga Center in Manila. (Photo by Marielle Lucenio)

Street dwellers who were not able to stay in the temporary shelters now take comfort that they too are being provided for by the priest’s center.

Junior Milan, a 54-year-old street dweller, said the police and security personnel would drive the homeless away during the lockdown.

“How are we supposed to go home when we do not have a home?” he said, adding that he is more comfortable in the streets than in a walled space.

He laughed off warnings that he might get infected by the new coronavirus disease.

“Only the rich can get the virus,” he said, adding that the poor are “lucky” because they seemed to be immune from the disease.

Kalinga Center is currently working on the building of “Bahay Kalinga,” a semi-permanent structure that can house up to 80 people.

There are about 4.5 million homeless people in the Philippines, according to the country’s statistics office. Non-government groups claimed that about three million of the homeless are in Manila.

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