The rising number of homeless people has become a growing problem for Taiwan, an expert argues in an op-ed in CommonWealth Magazine, adding that besides providing resources, establishing lasting relationships could make all the difference in the world.

The number of homeless people in Taiwan increased from 2,300 in 2003 to 3,400 in 2015, reports.

Chen Tsung-jen (陳宗仁), a former member of the Ren An Homeless Foundation (人安基金會), says a prospering economy seems to be the most obvious way to alleviate the problem.

However, in a competitive society, people may still be in need of social services. This is where a complete social service system is required, otherwise these people easily become homeless in the long run, Chen argues.

Chen says the most common way of helping the homeless in Taiwan is through outreach assistance, such as the provision of food, clothes and emergency medical aid. But social workers often complain that many homeless people show little desire to re-enter the workforce, which discourages the social workers and generates negative impressions of the homeless.

“People think the homeless are not willing to work and only want to freeload, and that they aren’t worth helping,” says Chen.

But Chen asks whether the problem lies with the homeless or the people who are providing support.

He wonders whether the organizatons that provide and distribute the resources ever reflected on whether these resources have been properly handed out to the people in need.

“If not, then we are the ones who should be making adjustments, not the homeless,” says Chen.

We have been offering all but one resource for the homeless – relationships – and this is what affects our success in providing social services for these people, Chen says.

Chen says that aside from having a physical home, what the homeless care most about is having family-like support. After helping them establish connections with people, another important key for social workers is to “avoid overdependence by the homeless so they can maintain a continuing, positive relationship.”

Only when social workers keep these facts in mind will shelters and service points become havens for homeless people.

“This is how a ‘service’ turns into a more equal ‘relationship’ from which both sides can learn and grow,” says Chen. “Helping others won’t be an energy-draining job anymore, but an important mission that enriches our lives.”

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: J. Michael Cole