Homeless Life Stories in Hong Kong and Taiwan
LEE, Yin-tze / Secretary-General, Homeless Taiwan Association
Translated by Li-Yi Chen
In Taiwan, systematic support and resources for the homeless are insufficient. Therefore, ever since Homeless Taiwan Association was founded in 2011, we have focused on gathering public support to tackle this problem and find solutions. Initially, we have neither funding nor staff with dedicated roles. Yet, we managed to attend international conferences to learn about related government policies and regulations abroad. Moreover, we established the two pillars for our future development: one is a support network for the homeless, and the other is public communication. For the first pillar, we use professional social work knowledge to help the homeless leave the streets and become more independent, thus stopping the cycle that pulls them back to homelessness. For the second pillar, we have empowered the homeless to speak up for themselves to reduce stigma through various projects. We’ve also published The Homeless: I’ve Never Thought I’d Be like This One Day, a book which documents the life stories of ten homeless people and five veteran social workers specializing in homelessness issues. Through the book, we hope to raise awareness and understanding about the structural causes for homelessness.
The stereotype that many people in Taiwan hold against the homeless is that they are “naturally inclined” to be homeless. To be more specific, people imagined them as castaways that prefer roaming on the streets and dislike working. However, the research done by Li-Chen Cheng in 2013 shows that 90% of the homeless people didn’t become one out of their own will; the reasons are way more complicated. Advocate groups like Homeless Of Taiwan, Do you a Flavor and our organization also have conducted research and provided evidence that debunk these types of stigma. Staying on the streets might result from expensive rent or a landlord’s unwillingness to rent to the homeless. Low income will also leave a person unable to afford rent after paying for meals. Shu-rong Li from the Department of Social Work of Soochow University also stated in her report, “Living Condition of the Homeless in Taipei,” the inability to pay rents is the reason for 48.1% of the homeless people interviewed. In our experience, landlords often reject single male tenants between the age of 55 and 65 because they have doubts about the tenant’s economic situation and interpersonal relationships. Although Hong Kong is also plagued by high rent, the government began planning for public housing much earlier than Taiwan, with more housing units available for the homeless. Without clear supplementary measures, social housing for the homeless in Taiwan still seems like pie in the sky.
We met SoCO (the Society for Community Organization) when we took part in international forums and began our partnership. They’ve devoted in the homeless issue for over twenty years, and it’s our honor to hold “The Homeless—Hong Kong Taiwan Life Journals Exhibition” with them. We hope that through this opportunity, we can show the knowledge that we have accumulated, with photographs and text that depict the lives of the homeless in Hong Kong and Taiwan. We’ve also planned panel talks and networking events in hope of evoke more public understanding and attention. Two years have passed since we set our minds to hold this exhibition. We want to thank the three photographers—Mr. Ri-Sheng Lei of Hong Kong, Mr. Jing-Wei Li and Mr. Yun-sheng Yang of Taiwan—for devoting long-term effort to capture the lives of the homeless and allowing us to exhibit their work for free. We also would like to show our appreciation to Oxfam Hong Kong, who is the sponsor for this event, for continuing to support Taiwanese NGOs’ work in poverty alleviation, advocacy, and civic education. Besides, we want to thank the homeless guest speakers—three from Hong Kong and three from Taiwan—o come forward to share their experience in front of the audience and advocate for homeless issues. We hope the photography exhibition can run smoothly and encourage more understanding and acceptance by the public and the government of Hong Kong and Taiwan regarding the harsh realities the homeless endured, and in the end, bring forth friendlier policies that protect them.
In 2011, a group of seasoned social workers founded Homeless Taiwan Association, aiming to exchange best social work practices and theories about poverty and housing problems with organizations from other eastern asian countries such as Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong.
In 2014, it began to offer direct services to the homeless via a supportive network consists of shelter, social service, employment service, counseling and legal aid… etc. It also founded some innovative programs promoting public awareness of poverty and homeless issues. All programs are aiming to be the base of the two pillars - “Public Communication” and “Enable them to Self-sufficient”. Homeless Taiwan Association hopes to help build networks and enhance the understanding about poverty. Also empower the disadvantages we served not just be able to be self-sufficient but also willing to voice themselves.
Introduction to Homeless Taiwan Association