One man was living in a homeless shelter, the other man was a factory owner whose monthly expenses reached millions of NT dollars — two divergent lives that met by chance. The factory owner, surnamed Lee (李), saw in the homeless man his true self, while the homeless man saw a chance to reclaim his life.
They now work hand in hand to help the homeless on the streets of Pingtung, pushing for the establishment of homeless shelters.
With only a junior high school diploma, Lee worked hard for 30 years and now owns a factory that employees 400 workers.
Lee moved to Canada a few years ago, but returned to Taiwan last year after his father suffered a stroke. By chance, while having a cup of coffee, he discovered the Garden of Shooting Stars, a homeless shelter established by the Pingtung County Government. Curious, he walked in and began talking with the homeless.
“Only someone out of his mind would employ the likes of us,” one of the residents said.
Hearing this comment, Lee decided he would try to help them.
He provided jobs for the homeless, sending buses to take them to his factory in what is now Greater Kaohsiung for work. On weekends, he gave them work sweeping the nooks and crannies of the communities at his own expense, letting them adjust to the new work — a new way of life.
He provided more than 20 homeless people with jobs.
On Saturday and yesterday, he provided six jobs for homeless people to garden the land around the shelter.
Lee said just simply providing them with jobs did not always work because once they received their health insurance card, they often left.
One by one, Lee helped them repair and change their lifestyle. Four have now quit smoking and have normal work and lives.
Among them is A-Chieh (阿傑), who works full-time at Lee’s factory.
Born in 1967, A-Chieh had worked in traditional markets after his divorce. A daily habit of cigarettes, laoliang and betelnut had a debilitating effect on his health.
After suffering a stroke three years ago, he lived alone, unable to do anything except wait for friends who brought him dinner. He couldn’t even go to the bathroom unless he crawled. Last year the county government finally arranged for him to move to the shelter.
When he learned of the jobs offered by Lee, A-Chieh jumped at the opportunity. Noticing A-Chieh’s difficulties moving about, Lee had to say something.
“Are you up to it?” he asked.
“I’m willing to try,” A-Chieh said, a response that changed their lives.
Using Lee’s recovery regiment, within three months A-Chieh was able to leave the shelter and live independently. His body has almost fully recovered.
“I was merely living out my days. If it weren’t for Lee, I would definitely still be on the streets,” A-Chieh said.
Last year, Lee bought 2.4 hectares of farmland and worked with A-Chieh to turn it into an agricultural shelter for the homeless.
Lee kept a low profile throughout, never giving out his full name. He said he was shocked by the kinds of lives homeless people led, which allowed him to recognize his true self.
“The homeless have changed my values in life. With expenses of about NT$1,000 per week, the center of my life is shifting from the materialistic to the altruistic,” he said.
Social worker Chou Wei-ling (周維齡) said A-Chieh was the first success story of someone regaining his or her independence since the Garden of Shooting Stars shelter opened three years ago.