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Chile earthquake kicks homeless off the street

Chile's most marginal set up shelters at Camp the Forgotten Ones, in the hills above Talcahuano.

Juliana Sanhueza, known to all as "La Flaca" (Skinny Woman), is toothless, tough and weather-beaten. She isn’t worried about abandoning her two children; she knows they are safer with her mother, who has been raising them since Juliana lost her last permanent abode two years ago and took up residence on the street, sleeping on the cardboard she collects to sell. Her companion sits under a tree and glowers. Sprawled on the ground at his feet, an unidentified man has collapsed in a stupor, and no one takes any notice.

But the residents of Los Olvidados have not been forgotten entirely. Dr. Lautauro Lopez, a community organizer and physician, has visited the camp several times in the hopes of figuring out some sustainable way to help. “These people lost the street, which was their real home,” he said.

Other advocates have emerged from an unexpected quarter: a the local hip hop artist, indigenous resistance sympathizers and those eternal champions of marginality, the local anarchist book collective.

Representing the rappers is Charley Flowers, self-proclaimed pioneer of hip-hop in the Bio Bio region, whose studied cool contrasts with his demonstrated concern and solidarity. Charlie is a Talcahuano homeboy poet who, according to his MySpace bio, “mixes a black music beat with a political-ecological and social discourse and unflinching criticism of injustice, social and economic inequalities, the Catholic Church, ecological disaster and the ‘dictatorship of the dictatorship’ of the port city.”

Charley shows up with a box of food donated at a concert and destined for the homeless of another community, but that no one came to collect.

He is accompanied by Millaray Castaneda Melinan, a Mapuche woman from Talcahuano who exudes an ancestral Earth Mother aura as she comforts a weeping woman. “The others are treating her like an outcast,” Millaray explains, “since her son, the community’s first spokesman, relocated and took the names of all the charity contacts with him.”

In "La Negra Ester" ("The Dark-Haired Esther") one of Chile’s most beloved plays, the late Roberto Parra, poet and musician, immortalized love and lowlife in the brothels of San Antonio, the next port up the coast from Talcahuano.

If he were to come back to life today to pen the epic of the Great Chilean Earthquake and Tidal Wave of 2010, he wouldn’t have to travel far to find his characters. They are waiting for him here, at Campamento Nº 1 Cerro La Union, where life imitates art.