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December 16, 2010

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Homeless reluctant to seek help

HOMELESS centers saw fewer people turning up than expected despite Shanghai's freezing weather yesterday.

The city has around 20 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. And when center staff tried to drag them inside out of the freezing wind, they would still refuse. While some said they preferred their freedom, others were afraid they would be sent back to their hometowns.

On Jinling Road E., Zhang Li, a rag picker, said he'd rather sleep on the street than go into a shelter.

Zhang, wrapped up in a worn-out down coat, rummages every litter bin on the road in all weathers, looking for items that can be sold.

"I need no charity, even if they'll really treat me good," said Zhang. "I can live on by myself."

The Huangpu District center said several people asked for help every day but not as many as expected.

The center can accommodate nine people, but if it is full, it sends people needing help to the municipal center in Putuo District.

"Some people are not used to being managed," said an official surnamed Wang with the Huangpu center. "And in fact most beggars have their own shelter, and some of them can even rent a small apartment."

Wang said most people seeking help were migrant workers who had been swindled or who had spent all their money. "They would ask for help to go home, and we send them to the municipal center," Wang said. "There, officials will register their identity and buy them a train ticket home."

Police would sometimes bring some homeless people to the center. "Once we received a man who was mentally ill," Wang said. "He smashed beds and cabinets with a hammer."

Before 2003, homeless people who turned to centers for help would be sent back to their hometowns. Although the practice was abolished seven years ago, some vagrants still fear that will happen to them.

The civil affairs bureau, however, said it would not force them to do anything they wouldn't like. "And of course we'll not send them back home," said Ren Chiyue, deputy director of its social welfare division.

The bureau is trying to help those who would rather stay on the streets. Every night officials organize volunteers to distribute food, water and warm blankets to the homeless, helping them to get through the chilly nights.


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