Issue on Poverty, Homelessness and Mental Health in the Philippines


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As of 2013, there are over 12,000 street dwellers in Metro Manila alone. These dwellers ended up on a very noisy, polluted, over-crowded, and restless streets.

Image source: Philippines Lifestyle| The Philippines is said to have 1.8 million abandoned children report

There are probably hundreds of ways on how to deal with your mental health. Some of it is already known in the mainstream but some are not and are kind of counter intuitive for the orthodoxy of psychiatry and psychology. But what if you do not have a healthy space to process your thoughts and protect you from so much psychological stressors on the streets? And what if you don’t have a home to begin with in the first place? Can you protect your mental health if you are homeless and vulnerable to many physical threats? And even if your family has a space to sleep, can you really rest and have a genuine peace of mind in a condensed and an over-crowded slum? According to the statement by the Department of Health (DOH) on January of this year, “Depression is a serious health condition that needs to be talked about and addressed. In the Philippines, 3.3 million Filipinos suffer from depressive disorders, with suicide rates in 2.5 males and 1.7 males per 100,000″.

Image source: News In The Philippines | DSWD LGU’s to rescue street dwellers during holidays

As of 2013, there are over 12,000 street dwellers in Metro Manila alone. Most of these dwellers ended up on a very noisy, polluted, over-crowed, and restless street of mega cities like Manila due to many reasons related to poverty such as lack of money, no sustainable income, and demolition. Others were also driven out by powerful landlords in their provinces while others ran away from wars and conflicts. According to Department of Social Welfare and development (DSWD), “the streets serve not only as their home, but also as their means of livelihood”. According to the September 2015 report by DSWD, the number of Metro Manila’s street families increased by 139% in the past 3 years. They are constantly exposed to many different physical and mental stressors on a daily basis.

Image source: Just one way ticket | Smokey mountain a walk through the slums of Manila Philippines

Majority of the street dwellers depend on trash for their daily survival. Some do scavenging, vending, or work as barkers, construction workers, pedicab drivers, cemetery caretakers, park attendants, and even beggars. One reason for this problem is the rampant corruption on many levels of government departments. One example is the case of the housing program in Bulacan. According to the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) website: “The National Housing Authority (NHA) built 57,494 houses for policemen, soldiers, firefighters, and jail guards. As of 2015, NHA had only succeeded to get occupants to live in 4,651 houses since the intended beneficiaries among police and soldiers rejected the houses because these were “too small”, measuring 22 square meters in floor area. The same report also looked at Commission on Audit (COA) reports which found irregularities, particularly the failure of contractors to submit required documentation. COA, however, has yet to determine the extent of corruption at the NHA”.

However, in 2012, there was a government program piloted in Manila for the homeless families called “Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT)”. It was said to partly cover the expenses on education, house rental, and health. According to the DSWD, they have rescued 1,045 street families off the streets. And in 2018, they claimed that the MCCT beneficiaries have reached a total of 100,000 families. DSWD also said to work with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and the Department of Agriculture (DA) in “ensuring that land and farming supplies are provided to street families who wish to return to their provinces”.

Image source: Just one way ticket | Smokey mountain a walk through the slums of Manila Philippines

Meanwhile, back in 2011, DSWD piloted its “Comprehensive program for street children, families, and Indigenous Peoples”. It was said to “provide activity centers, assistance on education and livelihood, and community service programs”. On the same year, the “International Day for Street Children” was also launched to “call attention to the plight of millions of street children all around the world so their rights will not be ignored”. It has been an annual celebration since then. But however, in 2018, the DSWD report said that there are at least 250,000 street children in the Philippines. Now, can you imagine how many children are exposed to mental health risks on a daily basis?

As long as the Philippines will not solve its problem on homelessness and extreme poverty, the health of many city dwellers, including street children, will never be ensured. Home is the main shelter where they can rest their body and their mind after school or work. This also protects them from the cold, the rain, the heat, and other types of sickness caused by harsh weather. Along with food and water, this is the most fundamental need we should have so that we can sustain our livelihood and of course, our lives. To solve our country’s mental health crisis, it is very important for the government and our society in general to ensure a land and a home for every Filipino family.

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Alter Picar

Alter Picar is a writer, translator, self-published author, songwriter / musician, community worker, non-profit organization manager (volunteer), mental health advocate / educator, librarian, and organic gardener.

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