Sun, Jan 04, 2009 - Page 2 News List

Homelessness on the rise as economic slump bites

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

The economic downturn has led to an increase in cases where people lose their homes, many of whom are younger people, which requires a change in the nature of welfare benefits and an increased budget for social programs, the Taipei City Government’s Department of Social Welfare said.

Chung Pei-chen, a section chief of the department’s Division of Social Work, said there are more homeless people in the capital than there were three years ago, with the average age lower than before.

There were around 300 homeless people in Taipei City three years ago, most of whom were between 50 years old and 60 years old, she said.

The number has increased to 500, she said, adding that the number of homeless people in their 40s still capable of working has increased.

“Therefore, the task of our division has turned from lodging homeless people to encouraging them to earn their own livings and helping them find employment,” Chung said, adding that the task was not easy, especially with the high unemployment rate.

The Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics reported that Taiwan’s unemployment rate had soared to 4.64 percent as of November, representing 507,000 unemployed people.

The increasing number of homeless people has exacerbated the lack of social workers and budget, Chung said.

She said that the only two reception centers for homeless people in Taipei have just 113 beds and that her agency was trying to map out plans to help lodge other homeless people, which might require several million dollars, while last year, her section had only NT$700,000 (US$21,300) to spend on issues related to the homeless.

“Building another reception center is almost impossible because of pressure from the public,” she said.

Chung said her unit began regular visits to homeless people in Taipei City this year in mid-November when temperatures began to drop.

In related news, the Homeless Welfare Foundation yesterday said that it would launch a special program serving free meals to the nine locations around the country starting tomorrow to help poor people endure the winter chill.

Starting tomorrow, homeless people or others in need can get free lunches and dinners at the foundation’s centers in Taipei City, Sanchong (三重), Keelung, Taoyuan, Hsinchu, Taichung, Chiayi, Kaohsiung and Lotong (羅東) under the program, designed to help poor people during the winter amid the global financial crisis.

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