Charities tackle challenge of homelessness

By Hsieh Wen-hua  /  Staff reporter

Thu, Feb 28, 2013 - Page 5

Social welfare agencies are often reluctant to help homeless people for the very reason that they do not have an address and cannot register their household with the government, said Kuo Ying-ching (郭盈靖), spokeswoman for charity group the Homeless of Taiwan, adding that it is therefore necessary for the homeless to have a mobile space of their own to stay in and where they can store their belongings.

Chen Chun-ku (陳俊谷), director of the Homeless Charity Foundation’s shelter in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華), said the homeless often risk losing their clothes, ID cards or money if they spend a night on the streets. Their belongings can be cleared away by street cleaners and they are under constant threat from people who throw rocks, firecrackers or even excrement at them.

The foundation is the nation’s largest non-governmental organization for the homeless, providing 16 shelters across the country each capable of providing meals to 1,300 people, 14 of which also serve as lodgings when the temperature drops below 15°C.

However, Chen said that offering accommodation only satisfies one of homeless people’s needs, adding that they must also find a way to purchase daily necessities and pay National Health Insurance premiums — which is especially important because they cannot pay for private healthcare.

Although helping homeless people find employment is the best way to help them, it is often difficult for them to find jobs because they are too elderly or in poor physical condition, Chen said.

Those lucky enough to get hired usually work as laborers, cleaners, sign-holders or advertisers who hand out publicity fliers on the street.

However, they only make about NT$100 an hour doing these sorts of jobs and on average can secure just eight working days a month, which is why only about 10 percent of the homeless population the foundation works with can find stable employment.

The unemployed can easily become homeless because they cannot afford to pay their rent, given that a room about 10m2 in size, without windows and in terrible condition costs approximately NT$3,000 to NT$5,000 a month, Kuo said.

She said the survival pods designed by US inventor Mike Williams would be ideal for this purpose and should be imported to Taiwan. The government should provide a space for these types of pods, which could be customized to correspond with the landscape and climate, she added.

Many of the homeless that live around Longshan Temple (龍山寺) in Taipei have expressed an interest in such pods, but one man surnamed Chuang (莊) said he was worried.

“It’s a good idea, but where would we put them?” he asked. “Also, some of the homeless enjoy their freedom; they don’t necessarily want to stay inside.”

Another homeless person, surnamed Chiang (江), said that the government was incapable of solving the problems of the homeless.

Chen said that one of the big challenges in improving the quality of life of the homeless was identifying those who really need assistance and are willing to work, so that welfare resources are not wasted.