Food pantry due for wreckerThe homeless in Seoul have few places to call their own, but at a small church in the Yeongdeungpo district, they always knew they could get a free meal. Lim Myung-hee, 47, the minister of Gwangya Church, made sure they could get three square meals daily at Gwangya Church.
That will change soon, however, because the district told Mr. Lim that his church and the homeless he serves, a total of 600 people, must move out by early June to make way for a park.
Mr. Lim first set foot in this neighborhood, notorious for sheltering the homeless of all ages, in 1987. Nicknamed jjokbangchon, or “cell town,” for the many cubicle-sized dwellings where the impoverished hunker down, the neighborhood has long been considered an eyesore by the city government. Only a few blocks from department stores, jjokbangchon is off-limits to minors.
The government has been gradually remaking the area since 1994, but last year it ramped up its efforts to clear out the jjokbangchon residents. Most of the area has already been cleared and trees have been planted.
However, the government only recently told Mr. Lim that his church will have to leave by June, giving them little time to find a new home.
The food pantry isn’t Mr. Lim’s only undertaking; he also runs a shelter for 120 people, thus earning him the nickname “angel to the homeless.” Running the shelter and preparing meals costs 20 million won ($17,000) a month, which comes from donations by Christian groups nationwide as well as out of Mr. Lim’s pocket. The government provides no aid.
Mr. Lim says he cannot sleep at night, knowing that his shelter is the last refuge for the homeless there.
The government’s compensation of 50 million won falls far short of what’s needed to make Mr. Lim’s longtime dream, a four-story homeless shelter, come true.
“What’s the city government for? It’s for the citizens, including the homeless,” Mr. Lim said. His constant efforts to meet city officials have been in vain; the only response he receives is, “Please wait.”
An official at the Yeongdeungpo district office said, “The evacuation plan has been going on from 1994, which means that we’re not kicking them out overnight. As far as we know, there is nothing illegal about the plan.”
Mr. Lim said, “If those politicians would pay a little more attention to taking care of people, they could spare some of their dirty money to spend it on a good cause.”
Mr. Lim knows it’s a long shot, but he is asking the government to build a temporary container shelter. The government officials’ response? “Let’s wait and see.”
by Chun Su-jin
To make a donation and for more information, call (02) 2636-3373 or visit the Web site at www.kwangya.org.