Civil war, mental illness, poverty, gang violence: the many roots of homelessness
© Iris Gonzales
Maria Precilda met her partner Marvin Bueta in 2014. It was love at first sight. Now a young mother, she lives with her family in one room in a Manila slum.
I was working as a cook for a middle-class family in a city to the east of Manila.
I had left my hometown in the southern province of Leyte to find a job. We didn’t have a lot of money so I had to stop school to support my parents and two siblings.
And then I met Marvin. He was a construction worker across the street from where I worked. He took my breath away. I got pregnant and had to stop my job as a cook. Marvin brought me to his parents in Bicol, a province in the south. I couldn’t go home because I was afraid to tell my parents I was pregnant. I was only 21.
He had to go back to Manila to earn a living while I stayed with his family in their village. There were more than 10 of us who shared a cramped space. I slept in the living room; all the time my belly was growing.
After I had the baby Marvin and I needed to find our own place. We did not know where to start. We stayed with Marvin’s brother and his family in a slum area in Manila for two months. It was another cramped space. And again we slept in the living room. Sometimes our baby cried and woke up the whole household. It was difficult, not good for anyone.
Finally, we had to move. We found a room for rent in the nearby block. It cost $50 a month. It’s expensive and eats a huge chunk of Marvin’s monthly income of $119. I can’t work yet because I have to take care of our baby, Mark. So this is our home for now.
Interview by Iris Gonzales.
Amanda Dunn lives in Luton just outside London. The 47-year-old mother of three lost her job at a local airport and was evicted when she couldn’t pay the rent. She’s been in a B&B for the past 6 months with her 13-year-old twin daughters.
I lived in a two-bed flat. One of the bedrooms I had to shut off because of the damp. Central heating wasn’t working or the cooker. Eventually I called the council. They served the landlord notice to repair it. At this point I refused to pay the rent – I told him ‘You’ve got to come and fix the heating’ – he refused. So it ended up in court. I got evicted and then we were put here.
I had to apply for housing benefit which took forever. When the woman from the council came she said, ‘There’s an eight to nine year waiting list for council properties here in Luton... Your best option is to start looking further north.’
My daughter Katie is just like a stick. She gets stuffed with takeaways every night but the dietician said it’s not the sort of food she should be having. And there have been a couple of instances at school where Rachel has shouted at teachers. They understand though – it’s not like Rachel at all to lose it.
My own mental and emotional health has got worse. I just cry. All the time. I can’t sleep without sleeping tablets.
We looked at a place by the airport. The man was happy with me being on benefits, the woman called me scum.
I want nothing more than to get a job. I’ve always worked – but you go to these interviews and they look at your address and ask: ‘Why are you in a hotel?’
Original interview provided by Shelter. Edited by Amy Hall.
Derek Chartrand Wallace lives in Berkeley, California. He is a 37-year-old, full-time college student surviving on financial aid.
A few semesters ago I experienced serious mental trauma including crippling social anxiety, depression and insomnia. I’d never been through anything like that before and was totally unprepared for the effects on my home life, friendships and studies. I couldn’t afford a therapist which meant I had to struggle on my own. I’ve only recently started to get my life back together.
In the interim my marks suffered which meant that the financial aid I rely on was put on hold. I couldn’t afford the room I was renting so I had to put my stuff in storage and start staying with friends and co-workers. That gets old fast so this year I’ve often been on the street, sleeping in abandoned buildings, construction sites, even in empty trucks.
Lately I have been using my storage space as a safe house at night. But it is against the rules so who knows how long I can keep that up? Dodging police is always a thrill a minute and being ‘homeless under cover’ has felt a lot like being a superhero with a secret identity.
Homeless shelters here are on a needs basis so the elderly, disabled, women and children have first priority over able-bodied males like me. I applied for Food Stamps [Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program] but was rejected for being a full-time student on financial aid (even though it is on hold). But there is a lottery for low/no-income dwellings through the County Housing Authority and I’m going to apply for that.
Interview by Nithin Coca.
Threatened by gang violence, Osman Rivera, fled his home in Honduras. The 48-year-old father narrowly escaped kidnapping as he travelled north to Mexico.
I’ve been working for 30 years painting cars. But the pandillas (gangs) charge what’s called a ‘war tax’. If you don’t pay, they kill you or your family. I was making only enough to cover costs and pay the tax.
I left on 13 December 2016. I crossed the Guatemala border, then travelled to Mexico. After that I took a combi (van-bus) with six other migrants and two Mexicans. After one of the Mexicans got off, a black combi without number plates began to follow us. It was late and the black combi kept trailing us. I was suspicious.
When our bus stopped to allow the other Mexican to leave, I jumped out too. The road was on the edge of a steep hill and I rolled down. The others were kidnapped [migrants are robbed and held to extort money from their families]. Armed men used lights to look for me. I stayed in a ditch filled with water. I waited six hours, then at midnight made my way to the road. A man on a bike told me the immigration police were near so I went into the forest and kept walking. Eventually I got a lift. I arrived in Mexico City on 30 December.
At the moment I’m staying in the Tochan migrant refuge. I’m sleeping on a mattress on the floor in the common room, because all the rooms are full. My plan is to legalize my stay here and eventually go to Baja California to start a car painting shop. I want to help my family. I have a seven-year-old boy and I want to give him a future.
Interview by Tamara Pearson.
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