“Hey, can you spare some change?”
When somebody asks me about what my opinion is on the hardships of the homeless in a city street, I always answer back with another question: A homeless person in which country?
Because I know two different worlds, and that makes all the difference.
In the Melbourne CBD, one of the sights I come across often is a homeless person on the street. As a rough estimate I see about one homeless person per street during the day, sometimes two every five blocks. Sometimes there are several while other times none.
The most typical sight of a homeless person in Melbourne is almost always a middle aged man draped in a jacket, camped with blankets and sleeping bags, politely asking passers by for spare change. When I see and read their sign, I can’t help but remember the homeless back in the Philippines as well.
Homelessness is only rising and the numbers are bigger than ever before in the Philippines. A typical Filipino homeless person is a little hard to pin on a single gender, women, men and especially children are all common. They usually wear thin, light clothing of low quality, I remember seeing plenty of faded fake logos. The banketa (cheap market shops) kind. It makes sense as the weather is much warmer in the Philippines. They rarely have proper blankets and usually use cardboard as their beds. Besides being more dirty and grimy, the way they ask sounds…more of a drawl. Not impolite but slower and the tone is heavier.
The worst sight I’ve ever come across when it comes to the homeless is usually the dead. When I used to walk down past the rows of the homeless, especially near Edsa at the sides of the main roads, I have seen that the homeless ‘sleeping’ on their cardboard beds are not even moving. Or breathing. The flies are already gathering. The most heartbreaking? When it’s a child. Ribs jutting out, eyes closed and never to open again. I will never forget that image for the rest of my life.
One of the main services available to help homeless Filipinos is the PPPP or the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (Bridging Program for the Filipino Family) which provides monetary social assistance in the Philippines. Though that support is there, there will never be close to enough support for a decent living quality. Not to the tens of millions of homeless and poverty-stricken Filipinos that are trying to fight off death everyday from starvation, sickness and poor living conditions.
Here in Australia, the support services differ. The chances are better to find a halfway house with decent conditions and if one is a citizen they can claim welfare every fortnight (around more than $200 or 7,000 pesos, depending on the circumstances). A majority of homeless Filipinos don’t even stand a chance of receiving anything from PPPP and many other programs. Simply because there’s too many people who need the assistance and there is not enough to go around. The access to healthcare is better here, as there are much less people trying to get public health access and food vouchers given out in desperate circumstances.
Being homeless is simply horrible in general in either country. Though I find no comfort in knowing that in some places, the homeless are struggling to stay alive because they lack basic human needs. Furthermore, the rapidly growing population in the Philippines has only increased poverty.
Sometimes, I really just wish that the Filipino homeless could have access to even just half the resources available to the homeless in Australia. For a better chance of staying alive.
Seeing the difference between the homeless here in Melbourne compared to Manila really opens your eyes. The standard of living quality has such a huge discrepancy and living here as a Filipino-Australian, these sorts of thoughts come to me often. I’ve seen so many things that plenty of people here would never see throughout their lives beyond a screen.
Things like a child’s jutting ribs that have become completely motionless against a piece of tattered cardboard.
What are your thoughts on homelessness? Have you seen homelessness in more than one country and how did you look at both situations?