Feud over homeless shelter

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Feud over homeless shelter


Yun Pal-byeong and Lee Jun-hyeong

The Neongma Community, a self-support group founded in 1986 to help those in need by setting up a shelter under a bridge by the Yangjae Stream in Gangnam District, southern Seoul, has long been a respected organization for selfless efforts to carry out its humanitarian mission.

But now, the once-revered community, which has made money for the homeless by collecting used clothing and recyclables, is split into two groups which are fighting over relocation.

The cause of the conflict lies in the Gangnam District Office’s decision made in November last year to remove the community shelter from both the Yangjae location and their second location at Tan Stream, a tributary of Yangjae Stream, also in Gangnam District.

The district office said the community has illegally occupied the space for more than 20 years and it poses a danger to the neighborhood as they use gas for heating and cooking without proper supervision or safety standards.

The office tore down the makeshift shelter last November following the announcement of its decision.

“We asked the community to relocate a number of times,” said a district office official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “We had no choice but to take action.”

To provide the community a place to resettle, the district office offered the organization founder Yun Pal-byeong a site in Gangnam’s Segok neighborhood, which Yun refused, claiming the size of the land, 220 square meters (2,368 square feet), is too small.

Yun’s rejection has led to internal conflicts within Neongma.

The center is now divided into two groups. One group is led by Yun, who insists on staying in the original location, while the other, led by former community director Lee Jun-hyeong, advocates for accepting the district office’s proposal.

The Gangnam office is stuck in the middle, not knowing who to talk to over the resettlement.

The ousted Lee, who began to work for the community in 2005, and is being sued by Yun for assault, told the JoongAng Ilbo that Yun, once nicknamed a saint of the poor, “recruited non-community members to bolster his hardline position” and “drove out members in favor of the relocation.”

The community members under Yun’s command stage a rally three times a week in front of the district office, with about 20-some members holding picket signs, demanding the authorities let them stay in the previous settlement site.

“Those protesting are non-community members all recruited by Yun, as an increasing number of members now support the resettlement,” alleged Lee.

Yun countered Lee’s accusation. “Lee unilaterally discussed the resettlement with the district office out of greed to seize the community’s property rights,” claimed Yun.

Amid the accusations, it was revealed that the once-respected selfless activist Yun owns real estate assets in the Gaepo neighborhood in Gangnam District worth 3 billion won ($2.74 million) under his wife’s name.

“Yun, who has always claimed to be a selfless promoter of humanitarian missions, purchased the land under his wife’s name financed by the community funds,” alleged Lee.

Yun rebutted the allegation. “I purchased the land for the community in 1995 as the community has frequently been evicted. It has been impossible to relocate the community there because of strong opposition from the Gaepo neighborhood.”

By Cho Han-dae [jkkang2@joongang.co.kr]
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