Rehabilitate, don’t scorn, the homeless

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Rehabilitate, don’t scorn, the homeless

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“A gypsy who has lost the nest fears the nightfall. Twilight may seem beautiful to others, but it is only the shadow of the fear to the gypsy. Drinking soju as if it were water, the gypsy lays the shamed body anywhere.”

The poem was written on the wall of a homeless shelter in Seoul, reflecting the desperation and despair of the homeless.

The most painful suffering of all - besides hunger - is being homeless. Fan Chengda, a Chinese poet from the Song Dynasty, wrote, “Spending half of the life eating in the wind and sleeping in the dew turns a person into a fool.” He saw through the painful and arduous life of being homeless.

According to official government data, there are over 13,000 people nationwide without a home or stable residence. When the country went through the IMF bailout and global financial crisis, many people suffered from bad credit, unemployment and dissolution of the family. The problem has developed into a societal issue, yet society still looks at the homeless in a negative way. They are considered idle and are treated as objects of disgust and even as criminals. They are viewed as the trash of society.

During the 1988 Seoul Olympics and 2005 APEC Summit in Busan, the homeless were hidden as if they were shameful to the country. During the APEC meeting, the city’s homeless control plan included a clause that said any homeless person who refused to check into a shelter would be charged with a misdemeanor. In effect, the homeless were treated as criminals.

The Nationwide Council of Religious and Civic Groups for the Unemployed and Homeless issued the “Declaration of Rights of the Homeless” in 2000. It begins: “We oppose the treatment of homeless people as objects of control or isolated unsubstantial beings in society, and we declare that the homeless are equal members of society.” They may be homeless, but they wish to remain family, friends and neighbors.

The Korea Railroad Corporation is to force out all homeless staying inside Seoul Station in August. It is a move in response to customer complaints as well as to improve its image. But the stop-gap measure is not enough to resolve the homelessness issue. Instead of driving them out without offering an alternate place to stay, the homeless should be provided with rehabilitation measures to improve their situations. After all, the homeless themselves are the most desperate to escape a life of living in a train station.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Kim Nam-joong
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