Seoul initiative helps the homeless rebound

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Seoul initiative helps the homeless rebound

Mr. Kim, a 46-year-old bus driver who works in Incheon, is just starting a new chapter in his life.

He formerly worked as a truck driver between 2007 and 2012, going back and forth between Seoul and Busan. But a series of accidents eventually resulted in his driver’s license being revoked, and ended up on the streets in the winter of 2012.

Kim stayed at a homeless shelter in Seoul, trying to find a way to start over.

Through work offered by the shelter, he was able to move into a small studio and later acquired a bus driver’s license with additional assistance provided by the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

He landed his current job in Incheon in September.

According to official figures, the Seoul Metropolitan Government helped 425 homeless people get back on their feet between March 2014 and February. That’s 82.2 percent of the 517 people who, like Kim, were living on the streets and afforded assistance.

Of those who were able to return to their normal lives last year, 218 successfully found jobs that would adequately support them, while 144 people were registered to receive basic welfare payments.

The project helps support the homeless by providing monthly rent for up to six months. Since it was launched by the local government in 2011, the program for the first time recorded a more than 80 percent success rate.

On average, recipients were provided rent for 3.7 months.

“We have planned to support only 350 homeless people in 2014,” a city government official said. “But we were able to support more people because most of those involved in the project could stand on their own two feet earlier than expected.”

Since 2011, the initiative has helped 1,500 people end their lives on the streets and regain a normal livelihood.

To help the homeless smoothly settle back down into society, the city government offers jobs via homeless support centers and provides them assistance to study for various certifications. As well as rent, it also offers administrative assistance - helping them to renew their canceled resident registration cards, register as disabled or recover their credit.

Resident registration is canceled when it is reported that a person has not been living at his or her current address or dies.

“The project isn’t just to provide rent to the homeless, but is to take care of them case by case and establish the fundamentals by which they can return to society,” said Kang Jong-pil, who heads the Health and Welfare Bureau within the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

Last year, 65 people under the support plan had their resident registrations renewed, which allows them to officially land jobs. Two people were registered as disabled to receive relevant welfare benefits, and 123 people were given medical treatment.

The project’s scope has also grown steadily since 2011, when the government initially helped 322 people using 228 million won ($207,000).

The budget for last year’s plan was upped to 490 million won and is expected to increase further, with the authority planning to support 550 homeless people starting this month.

BY KIM BONG-MOON [kim.bongmoon@joongang.co.kr]

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