For the homeless in Jakarta, COVID-19 means more economic desperation and health risks
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit the thousands of people living on the streets of Jakarta hard.
Many of them have seen their little income shrink even further. Those who are busking and panhandling have seen the number of people willing to spare them change dropping dramatically, as Jakartans are encouraged to stay at home to curb the spread of the virus.
At the same time, more have become homeless as they lost their livelihoods.
Public health experts said that the homeless are more susceptible to being infected with COVID-19 as they live in crowded areas with poor hygiene and sanitation. They spend most of their time being exposed to the elements and are sometimes malnourished which can lower their immune system. Access to vaccines is also an issue.
Social agencies have stepped up their efforts to help this group of people but they face various challenges including distrust and lack of public awareness.
According to figures compiled by the Jakarta Social Affairs Agency, the number of these so-called “people with social welfare problems” is on the rise.
In Central Jakarta, one of the city’s six municipalities and regencies, for example, the agency reported that there were 256 people living on the streets in 2020. By September 2021, the figure rose to 1,377.
However, activists said that the figure is only the tip of the iceberg as the agency only recorded those who have been found loitering and taken to government-run shelters. They said that the majority of those who are homeless in the capital city remain undetected.
With the pandemic, money is tighter than ever for the low income.
In September 2019, before the pandemic began, Indonesia had 24.7 million people living below the national poverty line, according to data from the Indonesian Bureau of Statistics.
Two years later, the figure grew to 26.5 million. Indonesia defines those living below the poverty line as being in households that earn less than 486,000 rupiah (US$34) monthly.