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December 23, 2011

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Ridding subway of beggars not easy

A 37-year-old blind man surnamed Ma from Henan Province was taken by the police yesterday afternoon while begging in a city Metro station.

Like many regular beggars, Ma is not a new face to the police and he knows most of the officers and even security guards of the Metro police station under People's Square. Police records show it was the 201st time Ma was caught begging in the city's public transport network.

Shanghai police launched a campaign yesterday, the latest in a continuous effort to root out begging in the city's Metro. In the campaign, 60 beggars were caught and taken in for registration, police said.

But police can do little, as no penalty can be imposed except sending them to the city's shelters. Since going to shelters or homeless centers is on a voluntary basis and few beggars want to go there, police face a dilemma. This year city police have caught 11,717 regulation breakers in Metro lines, in which 8,130 were beggars, police said in a statement yesterday. They have sent 3,632 of them to shelters. Most beggars simply leave the shelters and continue to beg on subway lines.

"They're not really poor but just want to make a living on that," said Yang Li, an officer who has handled Metro beggars since 2009.

Yang said the police had tried to help a teenage girl surnamed Bao who was taken out with her parents to beg but failed to change her life.

"The family claimed they were short of tuition fees for the girl but after we bought her books and stationery, we still caught them begging," Li said.

Although begging is not allowed on Metro lines, it remains incessant despite repeated campaigns, partly because there is no real punishment.

Police said a beggar can get 50 yuan (US$8) per train and that many of them come to the city to beg from their hometowns far away.

Officers with the police station under People's Square can nab more than 20 beggars a day, and they are trying their best to keep them from affecting the crowded trains during rush hours.

Most beggars bring their children with them to win passengers' sympathy.

Shanghai has about 20 homeless centers providing free food, accommodation, hot baths and even medical care, said the social welfare division of the Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau.

The homeless, however, don't seem to appreciate the government's efforts. Officials said they appeared reluctant to go to the centers even when invited. When center staff try to drag them inside even out of the freezing wind, they tend to refuse. While some said they preferred their freedom, others expressed fear of being sent back to their hometowns, even though that practice was abolished eight years ago.

"I don't want to live in the homeless centers," said a woman yesterday in the police station, who was caught while begging with her child. "There is no freedom."

Police said she was sent to a center several days ago.

"Some people are not used to being managed," said an official surnamed Wang of a homeless center in Huangpu District.

"And in fact most beggars have their own shelter, and some of them can even rent a small apartment."


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