Homeless prefer liberty of life on streets

A family standing under the rain outside a railway station.

Despite freezing winter temperatures across China, the nation's homeless are hesitant to stay in local government shelters.

The guarantees of warmth and food at shelters have failed to lure the homeless, as many prefer to beg for money or collect garbage out on streets, said experts. Many homeless also enjoy their independence.

Ma Li, director of a center for homeless children in Xuzhou, Jiangsu province, said it isn't easy to get homeless children into the center.

"We patrol the streets every day and try to persuade the homeless to come to our shelter, where they can stay for 10 days, but many turn us down," Ma said. "If they agree to stay in the shelter, we provide food, clothing and train tickets for them to go back home, if they want."

But Ma said many are not interested in going back home and also fear that people running the shelters are very strict. "Homeless people can earn some money by begging and picking up garbage, but entering the shelter means cutting off their means of making money," Ma said.

The cold weather is not leading to a dramatic increase in the number of people coming to the shelter, Ma said.

"The homeless know where the good spots are to stay, either under bridges or close to heaters."

The Ministry of Civil Affairs issued a notice in November asking departments to monitor and provide assistance to those living on the street.

Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, has also seen exceptionally cold weather with snow and severe frost.

Wei Zhizhong, deputy director of the Kunming relief center, said a project to provide shelter and food for homeless people was launched in November. It has thus far sheltered 169 homeless people and provided aid to 307 others. The program runs through March.

"We provide warm coats, cotton shoes, blankets and quilts to people at the shelter. They have heaters in the TV room," Wei said.

He said workers from the shelter patrol city streets to meet and talk to homeless people.

Guangdong province has also experienced unseasonably chilly weather this winter. A shelter in downtown Guangzhou said there are at least 80 homeless people receiving help each day.

Shelters workers in the provincial capital said they have recently expanded their patrols of the city to bring food and clothing to homeless people.

The freezing temperatures in parts of China are likely to continue, according to the National Meteorological Center, which issued a blue alert on Monday warning that heavy snow is expected in Henan, Hubei, Shaanxi and Anhui provinces before Tuesday.

The National Meteorological Center asked local authorities to prepare for freezing conditions and icy roads.

China has a four-tier weather warning system, with red representing the most severe, followed by orange, yellow and blue.

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