By Leilani S. Junio
MANILA, Nov. 22 (PNA) — The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) disagreed on Sunday with the claim of a human rights group that hundreds of homeless families were taken off the streets in Manila during the 2015 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Leaders’ Meeting in Manila last week.
DSWD Secretary Corazon J. Soliman said that contrary to the allegation that hundreds of homeless families were taken off the streets, there were only 77 families that were reached out during a citywide operation and such was conducted by the Manila Department of Social Welfare Office (MDSWO) and not by DSWD.
“There were only 77 families reached out and taken there … It should be understood that prior to that reach-out operations, there were already 200 individuals that are being assessed in the Boys Town,” Secretary Soliman said.
She also clarified that the reach-out operations are carried out by the local government units (LGUs) and not by DSWD because the LGUs have the mandate to do so.
She said that the concerned LGUs are mandated to provide augmentations and ensure that vulnerable sectors are given the appropriate services they need and that they are integrated back into the society so that they will not be left behind and be part of the inclusive economic growth vision.
She added that DSWD has a continuous engagement with LGUs wherein they constantly remind and educate them of their responsibility to provide protection for their constituents, including street families and children, by ensuring that there are steps being done to stop them from going back to the streets.
“And allowing them to stay/live in a risky street-life is not a way of protecting them… We know that the streets are not safe for them… That is why with or without APEC, there are reach-out operations and assessments for inclusion of the families to appropriate programs being done…,” the DSWD chief added.
“Most probably, what they and some media members had seen during the visit at the Boys Town are regular residents of the center who have been reached out much earlier than the Manila city government reach-out operations,“ Secretary Soliman said.
It can be recalled that reports broke out that the local government of Manila brought the reached-out families to the Boys Town, a Manila city government-run facility for street children located in Marikina City.
The DSWD, for its part, came into the picture in the conduct of interviews and assessments for the provision of appropriate services.
During the assessment, 12 families were assessed to be potential beneficiaries of the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer program for Homeless Street Families (MCCT-HSF) and two were qualified under the regular Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps).
MCCT is an expansion of the 4Ps, which provides a complete package of assistance to street families, including responsive shelter program, access to social services, and economic opportunities for the improvement of their living conditions.
Its most important component is extension of house rental assistance of up to PhP4,000 per month, which is paid directly to the lessor and not to the families, for six months to one year.
MCCT-HSF started in 2012.
Meanwhile, Soliman said that a total of 73 adult men and women among the families reached out have been provided Cash-for-Work (CFW) at the Boys Town.
CFW is a scheme where beneficiaries assessed needing assistance earn by rendering services.
The services can be in the form of cleaning the quarters and the surroundings of the center. The CFW beneficiaries receive PhP360 per day.
They are later evaluated if they are qualified to avail of employment facilitation where they will be hired as park attendants or be given job referrals to other employment opportunities.
On the issue that the homeless children are now back on the streets, Secretary Soliman said that those children roaming the streets now may have come from other areas as they usually move from one place to another.
“They too will be reached out by the Department in partnership with the LGUs so that their needs will also be assessed,” she added.
In line with this, she said they will strengthen their incentives to the barangays in critical areas where many vehicles pass by and children ask for Christmas presents.
Meanwhile, Secretary Soliman cited the positive results of the reach-out operations and family camp held last January, saying that 75 of the 100 street families who were part of the activities are now living in safe houses through the provision of financial assistance and Alternative Family Home (AFH) with sustainable livelihood.
Their children are also enrolled under the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the Department of Education (DepEd).
The rest have gone back to their provinces of origin or have returned to their homes in Metro Manila but continue to receive follow through services from the DSWD and the concerned LGUs.
The DSWD Chief revealed that there are 4,408 family beneficiaries of the MCCT-HSF at present.
She is happy to say that 700 families are now able to pay for their house rentals, which shows that there is really a way to “change the attitude” of some people on poverty.
She said that the 700 families have been very thankful for the opportunity and promised that they will do everything so that their children will always be protected and away from the risks.
She said that those who put into proper use the benefits they receive by working harder and with determination to change their lives are admirable.
She, however, admitted that although they are doing their best to really help, if there are people who will keep on going back to the streets and not be contented, much education is needed to further teach them which should be conducted through continuous education and reach-out operations.
She said she agrees with long-term solutions such as provision of housing opportunities among LGUs like the socialized housing being implemented in Quezon City through affordable Bistekville housing units.
She further said that she is aware that lack of income opportunities are the reasons why despite the existence of resettlement sites, people still prefer to stay in the highly urbanized cities and end up as “street dwellers” sometimes.
As a remedy to this, they have provided Kabuhayan Folded Carts (KFCs) to some MCCT-HSF beneficiaries who possess entrepreneurial skills so that they will have a dignified way of earning income, supported with interest-free capital which they will pay as they earn.
The program is a partnership of DSWD’s Sustainable Livelihood Program (SLP) with the Ermita-Malate Business Owners Associations Inc. (EMBOA).
Many of the carts and beneficiaries selling different items can be seen at Plaza Olivia Salamanca on T.M. Kalaw St. in Ermita, Manila.
Soliman said that they are aware that livelihood and capacity to earn is one way that will help empower people to eventually improve their lives. (PNA)