Tue, Jan 25, 2011 - Page 2 News List

Homeless tell of their difficulties

TOUGH LIFE:A survey of 140 homeless showed that 90 percent had jobs before falling on hard times, and more than 70 percent are currently in the work force

By Loa Iok-sin  /  Staff Reporter

Accompanied by a social activist, two homeless people tell their stories yesterday during a press conference at the legislature, where they asked for greater understanding of their plight from the public.

Photo: Liao Chen-huei, Taipei Times

For the nation’s homeless, life is not only about finding a place to stay or ways to sustain themselves, it’s also often about being dispersed and having their belongings taken away by the government.

“How am I supposed to sleep on a cold day like today after you [the government] take away my clothes and blankets? I sleep in the park, at the train station and on sidewalks with a covering because I don’t have anywhere else to stay,” a tearful homeless woman named A-chun (阿春) told a press conference at the legislature yesterday.

“I’m suffering every day, but you only know how to drive me away,” she said.

A-chun is one of the homeless people who make Taipei Railway Station their home.

The Homeless of Taiwan organization held the press conference to release the results of a survey of 140 homeless people living in or near the railway station.

Aside from worrying about finding ways to sustain herself, A-chun often fears being driven away by police or having her belongings cleared away once she leaves her “home.”

“I want to work to support myself, but how can I take all my belongings — clothes, blankets and sleeping bags — to work?” A-chun said. “I usually hide them somewhere, only to find that my stuff had been taken away by the cleaning squad.”

Contrary to the impression that the homeless do not want to work and often beg for money, 90 percent of those surveyed had jobs before becoming homeless, and more than 70 percent of them are currently employed, though mostly in low-paying temporary jobs, such as construction work, holding advertising placards or custodial work, the survey showed.

Close to 90 percent of the 140 homeless surveyed said their No. 1 concern was not finding a job, while 80 percent said they were also worried about their belongings being taken away.

“The government should help the homeless or at least not treat us like rats to be gotten rid of,” said Zhuiying (追影), a 65-year-old homeless person who also lives around the railway station. “We sleep in public places and try to find a job because we don’t want to break the law.”

Some homeless people who cannot stand their condition anymore sometimes commit minor crimes just to be put in jail so they can receive shelter and food, he said.

Cracking down hard on homeless people will only turn more into criminals, Zhuiying said.

Before he became homeless four years ago, Zhuiying owned a teahouse in Sanchong District (三重), New Taipei City (新北市), and had a house in Taipei’s Shilin District (士林).

About six years ago, a family friend persuaded his parents to sell their house and invest a large amount of money.

“I was busy taking care of my business and didn’t pay attention to it at first. When I sensed something was fishy, it was already too late,” Zhuiying said. “The man took just about everything my family owned and ran away.”

Soon after, Zhuiying’s parents passed away.

Zhuiying worked as a security guard for some time before becoming homeless.

Homeless people also often face exploitation at the hands of their employers, he said.

“I worked at a construction site where I was told I could make NT$1,000 per day, but at the end of the day, I only got NT$700,” he said. “I asked why and was told: ‘If you don’t want the job, then don’t come to work.’”

Chunghwa Telecom Union vice president Hung Chun-lung (洪春龍) said that if the government did not improve hiring conditions for subcontractors or temporary workers, more workers would risk becoming homeless.

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