Senator Win Gatchalian urged local government units (LGUs) to introduce clear, definitive guidelines in addressing the plight of the homeless during the Luzon-wide “enhanced community quarantine” over the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
An already vulnerable population where many of whom suffer from health problems, Gatchalian raised that homeless people live in environments where they have little access to facilities for basic hygiene, making them more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection and making it difficult to realistically self-isolate from anyone who might be carrying the virus. He says this in itself is already violative of the social distancing policy of the government.
LGUs should have the discretion on how to handle the cases of the homeless as Gatchalian said it is crucial that they seek out those who have no shelter, put them under a decent roof, and help them access health care services. Food and hygiene kits should also be distributed, he added.
“How can they self-quarantine if they have no place to live and stay apart from the others”, asked Gatchalian.
“Marami sa ating mga kababayan ang mas nanganganib na magkasakit dahil wala silang mauwian. Kung nais nating pigilan ang pagkalat ng COVID-19, kailangan nating siguruhing ligtas at may masisilungan ang mga pamilyang walang tahanan,” he added.
Gatchalian said people who have literally no resources and no guaranteed place to stay are the ones who need far more help because they’re relatively at high risk for coming down with COVID-19.
For Gatchalian, one step to reduce homelessness nationwide is the establishment of a nursing home for abandoned and homeless senior citizen in every LGU. This is the objective of Senate Bill No. 737 or the “Homes for the Abandoned Seniors Act of 2019” that he filed, which takes inspiration from Valenzuela City’s own nursing home called Bahay Kalinga.
According to Habitat for Humanity’s country profile for the Philippines, there are 4 million families living in unsafe, unsanitary and unsustainable conditions. The housing organization also reported that by 2030, the Philippines could have a backlog of 6.5 million units. Hope, a non-profit organization on children’s welfare, estimated back in 2015 that there are 250,000 children on the streets nationwide, 30,000 of whom are in the National Capital Region (NCR).
Gatchalian added that shelters accommodating the homeless should be equipped in observing protocols in handling potential cases of COVID-19, which requires close collaboration with health officials and improved capacity for identifying and reporting symptoms related to the virus.