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Homes and the Homeless

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As I have stated before, in the 6th largest and possibly the most densely populated city in the world, life is not easy for the vast majority of the population. Over 65% of the countries 100 million people are impoverished, according to the World Health Organisations definition of poverty goes.

As you wander around Manila the ramshackle dwellings of the poor a literally everywhere. Often clumped together, sharing walls, built on top of each other, joined by alley ways and dark tunnels where sunlight never shines, just hellish fire traps with everyone doing their own improvised wiring and many structures without running water or decent sanitation. The people who live in them are a mixture of “genuine residents”, meaning they have valid I.D’s and possibly a real job, as well there being a lot of “real squatters”, people who have fallen out of the system and are recorded nowhere at all. These are the ones that just “exist” eking out whatever kind of a living they can.

Then there are the “almost homeless”. Those people who fill the nooks and crannies in walls, under bridges, living in shreds of plastic tarps for cover from the elements, or building small structures from whatever they can scavenge. These people are simply everywhere you look, if you look!

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Pedi Cabs (short distance pedal powered transport) seem to be quite common homes for some of the “almost homeless”. Once the tyres are flat of something on the unit is broken so that it can no longer be ridden, it makes a convenient unit for one or two, occasionally the whole family.

If you look at this pink Pedi Cab, there is at least three people sleeping in it, as there are two sets of feet above the left wheel, with at least one adult sleeping inside.

A brief stroll around almost any street or park in the early hours of the morning will reveal individuals and whole families still asleep on their cardboard mattress from the night before. Their belongings packed up in sacks and plastic bags around them, or being used as pillows. These are the scavengers, or if they are in tourist areas, the beggars. There will be no schooling for these children, no lessons except what they learn the hard way, from life itself.

Then there are clearly vagrants. Aimless wanderers, sleeping where ever they stop, eating what ever they find, carrying their meagre possessions in small sacks or bundles. These people don’t really count for anything, they are not even statistics in their own nation. It might sound harsh, but these people in many ways, might as well not even exist, even though they clearly do.

But the people at the very bottom of the pile, are those who for varying reasons, be it drugs, alcohol, being born from a malnourished mother or accidents, are those with mental issues. Just floating through life in whatever state their minds are in. No medication, no care, no treatments in safe places for these ones. Nothing is nothing.

A few years back I got to enter the main mental facility in the city, Mandaluyong. There are photos, as cameras and phones are banned, but here people are still literally shackled with chains to cement slabs or tied to beds with ankles and wrists some times rubbed raw, indicating how long they have been there. The atrocities committed to these people while they are “in care” is not worth thinking about. But even these institutions can’t keep people forever, so they end up aimlessly wandering the street, unmedicated and un-cared for, totally lost in the madness that is Manila.

As bad as this might sound, every country does “need it’s poor”. Not everyone can be a Dr, and Dr’s don’t dig ditches or collect our daily garbage, some one else does those jobs. These are also the jobs of the poor here as well, it’s just that in many impoverished countries wages are vastly different than they are in the more developed worlds. Most of the poor do work, and they work long and hard, with often hours of commuting time each day, they just don’t get the monetary reward for the efforts they put in, so they work and stay poor. Of course this is true in every nation and people are poor for a whole variety of reason, but in Manila the percentage of poor is just way to high and any assistance, programs or plans to deal with this ever increasing issue is either just not there or incredibly in-efficient.

The words of Jesus were very clear “the poor you will have always and whenever you desire you can do good to them” – Mark 14:7.

If anyone is deserving of hearing “the good news” shared with them, it’s the poor. Matt11:5.

One interesting thing that we have noticed in our time here, is that unfortunately, the poor are often not “givers”, and biblically we have to “give in order to receive”. We have on more than one occasion found literally starving, as in 3rd degree malnourished children living in homes surrounded by neighbours and people who could help, who could share or perhaps at least look like they care, but more often than not, they do nothing at all. It’s as if “your lot in life” is exactly that, it’s your lot, you drew a short straw and that’s not your fault, but neither is it my responsibility, work it out by yourself – at least that seems to be the attitude. I think that part of this comes from the fact that people here have been poor for such a long time, generation after generation, that it’s just all about me getting what I need, giving and generosity seem to have largely disappeared, which does make fixing poverty an even greater task, as if you don’t begin to give, you might not begin to receive.

Thankfully fixing poverty is not our job, we are called to “make Disciples”, so that is what we focus on. In doing this we are actually in-directly dealing with poverty on a person by person basis. As we connect people to Jesus, He connects them into the “economy of Heaven”, which is a serious step up from where they have been before.

Discipleship changes the direction of a person life. Give some one Jesus and you really have given them the best that you could give.

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