'Box City': A community of homeless Filipinos in San Francisco

Henni Espinosa, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 14 2017 03:00 AM

Beneath San Francisco, USA's opulent landscape lies a community that sticks out like a sore thumb—a box city of sorts.

Along San Francisco 7th Street, beside the train tracks, a homeless encampment where dozens of makeshift shelters made of cardboard and plywood exists.

The encampment, which consists of mostly Filipino dwellers, is led by Edwin Marangco, 41, who moved to the US from Malabon in 1991.

“We’re like family. One cooks, everyone’s invited. Sometimes, we chip in to buy some food. They want to eat some rice and adobo. We cook," he said.

Despite his street alias "Bad Boy," Edwin prefers to be called a town leader, someone who makes sure that everyone living in "Box City" behaves in a manner that doesn’t scare other people living in the area.

“One day, we’ll get along. We watch their cars. They watch over us. They give us food. That’s how life is here,” he said.

Box City’s designated cook is Aliren “Yen” Sunga who migrated to the U.S. in 2013 from Pampanga, Philippines. 

The homeless pitch in whatever money they have so Yen can cook up a feast.

Yen said she remembers what it’s like living comfortably in the Philippines.

“When I was in the Philippines, I never worked, never did chores. All I did was sleep. That’s why my parents and grandparents were so scared when I left for America thinking of what I’m going to do when I live here,” she said.

She moved to the U.S. for love for an ex-husband, who she said cheated on her and beat her up.

Marcela Flores, 42, meanwhile said that she doesn’t have to be homeless. She chose to be one because her boyfriend is homeless and wherever he goes, she goes.

“People here at Box City, they need me. They're like my family, that’s why I can’t leave them,” she said.

Roland Limjuco, 44, is one of the newer residents of Box City. He used to sleep inside a van owned by his former employers. But since he lost his job at a sandwich shop, he has nowhere else to go.

Roland, who moved to the U.S. from Batangas in 1993, boasts that he won’t have a hard time finding another job.

“I’m not picky with jobs. I accept any job. I used to be a massage therapist, dental assistant,” he said.

“Honestly I got hooked on a vice. I can only blame myself. I don’t blame other people," he added.

His vice for many years now? Drugs. Shabu, or crystal meth to be exact. He said whatever he earns from work goes to that vice, not to housing. Still, he’s fine with that.

“For me as long as I have work, I can do what I want. I don’t ask money from other people," he said.

He said his earnings are not enough to rent a place in San Francisco, which has the most expensive rental rates in the U.S.

He insisted that his crystal meth addiction is manageable and something he can eventually beat.

“Just because I’m addicted does not mean I’ll let myself down. I will fight to stay on my own two feet," he said.

San Francisco only has 1,200 emergency shelter beds for a homeless population of 6,700, which is why many have resorted to building their own homeless encampments.