My daily commute takes me behind the Post Office in Lawton, along a winding riverside road that starts at the MacArthur Statue at the foot of the bridge to Sta. Cruz and ends at Plaza Mexico inside Intramuros. Every morning that I go through there, I see homeless people going about their morning routines – having sex, washing clothes, pissing in the river. They’ve always been there, but a couple of months ago, I started noticing that there were more of them than there used to be.
Where they used to be spaced something like fifteen to twenty from each other, I started seeing them bunking with less than ten feet between them. And not just individuals either, but whole families with infant children and pet dogs. At one point, what was probably a kind of extended family even took over a section of the boarding bay of the Pasig River ferry.
Having seen homeless people in the environs of Intramuros since I was in college, the increase in their numbers didn’t really register. I mean I was aware, but that was it.
And then tonight, coming from dinner in the neighborhood of White Plains, I was surprised to see the sidewalk at the corner of Araneta Avenue and E. Rodriguez Avenue positively teeming with people laying down cardboard boxes and ragtag blankets on the ground. Some were already asleep, and a few others were hunkered around a small open fire. One was scraping what look liked rice off of the blacktop.
Now that area has always been populated by informal settlers, so my first reaction was that they were maybe sleeping out because of the heat. But then I realized some of them were bedding down next to piles of garbage. One was even spreadeagled close to a sleeping dog. Now that sort of thing kinda strains the credibility of the ‘sleeping out because of the heat’ theory.
As I continued on my way, I realized that nearly everywhere I went, there were two or three people on the sidewalks in various stages of repose. Some were squatting, others were sitting in the gutter, and yet others – the majority in fact – were asleep. And it wasn’t just the sidewalks they were occupying; many of them had created temporary shelters that abutted the roll-up steel doors of establishments closed for the night. All signs, in other words, pointed to these people actually being homeless, rather than homed but sleeping al fresco.
Which now makes me wonder. Is it just me, or has there really been an increase in the numbers of the homeless?
Who would know?
How would they know?
Is anyone keeping track of these people?
What’s being done to help them? Is anything being done at all?
Are they, as one Twitter friend suggested, those who were displaced from Paranaque recently? I have no doubt that some of those unhomed and dispossessed may have wandered all the way into Quezon City, but still, how many of them are there?
And this being Labor Day, is it safe to assume that they are jobless as well?
Whatever the answers to those questions might be, the fact remains that there they are, out on the streets, late at night, sleeping next to trash.
Long term solutions are all well and good; government – both local and national – should strive mightily to address root causes like corruption. But those wars take forever to win. Keep an eye on the victory to come, certainly, but do not lose sight of the casualties already here with us right now, their human dignity in tatters: eating off of the asphalt, having sex under newspapers, and sleeping with the garbage.