Looking after the homeless

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Looking after the homeless

Kim Ji-seon, 38, is the only female counselor at the Korea Support Center for the Homeless. She travels central Seoul’s streets three to five times a week speaking to the vagrants.
“What the homeless want most is a warm attitude and welcoming words,” Ms. Kim said. “But because of the unrest at Seoul Station recently, I am afraid that Seoul’s citizens will become more aloof from them.”
A group of homeless people recently rioted at the station following the deaths of two vagrants there.
“It feels frustrating that the homeless are already viewed by the public as scary and helpless and their reputation is getting even worse,” she added.
Ms. Kim observed that “People must be concerned about a woman talking to the homeless every night, but when I actually go out there, I feel that they are just human beings like us.”
Of course, the work is not trouble-free. Ms. Kim was attacked twice by mentally disturbed homeless people last year. She said, however, that these people were a small minority.
“Seoul city has a plan to force the homeless into shelters, but I think it is wrong,” she added. “Those who are mentally handicapped or ill should be held for treatment, but for the rest the city needs to improve existing shelters or provide cheap but decent lodging.”
Seoul officials say there are 3,000 homeless people, with 900 of them sleeping on the streets.
“Without job training or other benefits, providing just meals and accommodations is not enough,” Ms. Kim said. “Many people are not used to living in a group. Those who snore loudly or cough are sometimes ejected from shelters.”
Ms. Kim, who is single, worked for alternative schools and youth organizations for eight years and began working for the homeless in 2001. “I feel the work is worthwhile when [homeless people] become self-sustaining, and buy me jjajjangmyeon or pay me back what they borrowed,” Ms. Kim said.

by Shin Ye-ri
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