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Philippines Homeless People’s Federation was formed, to bring together low-income community organizations that had developed housing savings groups in many different cities and to encourage and support the formation of other savings groups.

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Homeless People’s Federation Philippines represented by Rev. Norberto Carcellar, C.M., executive director, is an organization that has enabled squatters living on a sprawling garbage dump in Quezon City, Philippines to create community savings and credit programs, purchase land, build housing and set up waste disposal and water distribution systems.

The Philippines Homeless People’s Federation brings together poor community organizations in cities across the Philippines, all engaged with finding solutions to problems they face with secure land, housing, income, infrastructure, health, welfare and access to affordable credit. Some groups are new, others are being revived, some are church-related, others are mini-federations in their own right. The common thread in all these groups is managing their own savings and credit programs and using savings as the central means of improving their livelihoods, strengthening their communities and securing land and houses.

Communities in several cities had been running savings programs for several years and had made some contacts with each other. But the idea of joining these scattered initiatives into something larger came in the past two years, when visits to poor people’s federations in India, South Africa and Thailand showed the enormous potential of large-scale community federations. With support from the federation’s NGO partner, the Vincentian Missionaries Development Foundation, and using the tool of community exchange visits, strong ties have been forged between groups in 18 cities, all with diverse operating structures, working styles and local ideas.

The federation’s first national assembly was held in September 1998, and was hosted by the Lupang Pangako Urban Poor Association, in the sprawling slums which encircle the mountainous garbage dump at Payatas. The meeting drew together some 1,000 local members and over 200 community leaders from around the Philippines – Mandaue, Cebu, Calbayog, Samar, Iloilo, Davao, Surigao, General Santos City, Bicol and Metro Manila. The assembly makes a good example of the lively style of the federation’s process: at least eight languages were spoken at the assembly, and dozens of sharply different local realities were enumerated. The assembly provided a venue for defining support mechanisms to strengthen these organizations and for discussing issues like access to government loan programs, land title and land conversion problems, land acquisition strategies, evictions, negotiating with local governments and landowners, dealing as equals with NGO partners.

The lack of affordable land and housing options for the poor in most Philippines cities means that between a third and a half of the urban population are forced to live in informal settlements, in conditions that are illegal, insecure and environmentally degraded, without access to toilets, water supply, electricity and in ever-present danger of eviction. Without secure land, houses and communities, more and more of the poor’s scanty resources go into just surviving, catching people up in a hopeless cycle of squatting and eviction which only further further impoverishes the poor, and prevents them from developing themselves.

The Federation now has over 20,000 member families who are saving and who are either developing their own homes or seeking ways to do so – for instance, negotiating for secure land, forming homeowner associations, identifying sites on which they can build and exploring sources for loans. In common with similar federations in other countries (with whom there is constant contact), there is a strong emphasis on community-managed savings schemes, community-to-community exchanges (so members can learn from each other’s experiences and discuss the best solutions for each particular case) and negotiating with governments with clear, carefully costed proposals that show how much the communities can do for themselves.

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