Removing obstacles to employment for homeless people should take priority over requiring them to be in stable employment, National Taiwan University social work professor Cheng Li-chen (鄭麗珍) said yesterday at a conference discussing the services provided for and needed by homeless people, adding that policies that actively reach out to and reintegrate groups into communities are important.
There are currently between 3,000 and 4,000 homeless people in Taiwan, but because the legal definition for homelessness is hazy and determined on a city or county basis, with some local authorities considering people with living relatives not to be homeless, the number is probably an underestimation, Cheng said.
“Compared with the complete special acts dedicated to matters concerning homeless people in Japan and South Korea, the nation’s regulations concerning homeless people is a single article under the Public Assistance Act [社會救助法]” that allows for the municipality, county or city competent authorities to specify the regulations for the shelter and assistance of homeless people, he said.
According to Cheng’s survey, most of the homeless people in the country are male and aged above 45, with the age group from 55 to 64 being the largest.
Seventy-four percent of the respondents said they live on the street and more than half of them had done so for more than three years, “two facts indicating that Taiwanese homeless are long-term street people,” Cheng said.
“A majority of those who have lived in shelters are not willing to go back, complaining about their strict rules and the remoteness of the locations,” Cheng said, adding that as they have problem finding non-temporary jobs, renting a place is almost out of question without social benefits.
Cheng also said that more than half of the respondents said that they had served at least one term in prison.
“This raises the issue of how former convicts can be assisted to obtain long-term employment and return to community life,” he said.
Obstacles to employment for homeless people include the inability to open a bank account, as many of them have a poor credit history and no registered residential address, Cheng said.
Shortening the time people live on the street, helping homeless people overcome obstacles to employment and having the group, including former convicts, interact with and return to the community all require the person to have residential details, Cheng said, adding that the government should develop social residence programs that are tailored to their needs.