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China Times: Give the homeless a chance for rebirth

2012/01/04 12:23:36

A video clip showing cleaning crews hosing a Taipei City park where street people were sleeping has recently stirred an uproar in Taiwan. It doesn't matter that the water was not sprayed directly at the homeless, as some claimed. Such an act has tainted the country's human rights record.

For a long time, street people have been negatively stereotyped in the public eye, always being considered dirty and disruptive of public order. Many question why these physically able people would prefer wandering the streets than finding a job.

In fact, there are complicated factors behind the phenomenon. Some of the homeless were eliminated from the job market because they are unskilled, and there are also former contract workers who lost their jobs because of an economic downturn.

According to a survey conducted by the group Working Poor Unite, 90 percent of the homeless held jobs before taking to the street.

They include former business owners and factory workers who began taking odd jobs following a business closure or layoffs. Due to the lack of a stable income, they cannot even afford to rent a home and have no other choice but to sleep on the street.

Japan also saw an abrupt increase of street people after the bursting of the country's economic bubble, which prompted the Japanese government to enact a law in 2002 to address the problem. The law paved the way for a national social security network that aimed at helping these people return to the job market through career guidance and skills training. In addition, subsidies were provided to encourage the private sector to renovate abandoned factories, dormitories or old buildings and rent them to the homeless.

As Taiwanese businesses suffer from a decrease in orders as a result of the latest global economic slowdown, the number of street people is likely to further increase. We hope the water hosing incident will allow society to realize the fundamental problems underlying the existence of street people. The government should also begin planning a comprehensive social security network to give the homeless a chance for rebirth. (Editorial abstract -- Jan. 4, 2012)

(By Y.F. Low)
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