Homelessness is a pervasive problem in all parts of the world, even in places that seem as technologically advanced as Taiwan. While Taiwan has made headlines for its fast-growing economy, its government has been stringent with social safety nets, providing little help or resources to their homeless population. The fact that homelessness in Taiwan is a problem at all is surprising. Taiwan has one of the lowest poverty rates in the world and a high rate of homeownership; almost 85% of households in Taiwan own their homes.
Even still, Taiwan does have a homeless problem, especially in the capital city of Taipei. While there are homeless shelters, most of them are privately funded and have long waiting lists to get in. But the major problem facing homeless people in Taiwan isn’t access to housing, it’s access to stable employment. With this in mind, local groups within Taipei have been creating innovative strategies to help the homeless within the city, which contains the majority of Taiwan’s homeless population. Here are some important facts about homelessness in Taiwan, as well as the creative solutions being proposed to help the homeless get off of the streets.
The homeless are often under-counted. While almost 9,300 people were reported as homeless in 2017 (almost double the number reported in 2013) this statistic may not be completely accurate. As long as a person’s family has some form of housing, they would not be considered homeless even if they are currently sleeping on the streets. Without accurate data, the government and other organizations can not properly address the problem of homelessness in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s homeless tend to be elderly, male, blue-collar workers. The exporting of production-line jobs to China, combined with Taiwan’s increased housing prices, has caused many factory workers to lose their jobs and become homeless. The majority of the workforce was men over 50, who are now the majority of the homeless in Taiwan. While the average age of homeless people in Taiwan is 55, they usually have only received an elementary school education, making it hard for them to find employment.
Low birth rates contribute to homelessness in Taiwan. Wages are stagnant while prices increase, making it harder for people to afford to have children in Taiwan. This decrease in birth rates has led to an older population, which in turn leads to elderly people getting abandoned due to the lack of resources within a family.
There is a stereotype against the homeless. A common opinion among society in Taiwan is that homeless people are “naturally inclined” to become homeless, whether that be because they like to roam the streets or they simply dislike working. However, a 2013 study showed that 90% of homeless people were on the streets due to circumstances out of their control; long-term unemployment was cited as the number one reason for homelessness in Taiwan. In “Living Conditions of the Homeless in Taipei,” Shu-rong Li showed that almost 50% of people were homeless due to an inability to pay rent. Not only that, but landlords were more likely to deny renting to single men ages 55-65 because of concerns about their economic statuses.
There is not enough government housing in Taiwan. Only 3% of the total housing stock in Taiwan is publicly-funded government housing. Because of this, it can take up to seven years to get into public housing, whereas private housing is almost immediate. Private housing (outside of major cities) is the popular choice of homeless people who need a place to live.
There are already groups working on the ground in Taipei to end homelessness in Taiwan. Their solutions usually center around helping the homeless get back into the workforce. The Homeless Taiwan Association provides just these opportunities: in the organization’s Hidden Taipei tours, they train and employ homeless people to give tours of the city. In its first year in 2015, the Hidden Taipei tours attracted almost 2,000 customers and received many favorable reviews.
Not only does the Homeless Taiwan Association employ homeless people, but the organization also works to provide shelter, social service, counseling, and legal aid to those on the streets. They say that the way forward to end homelessness in Taiwan is by helping the homeless become self-sufficient, changing the stigma around homelessness and enhancing the public understanding of poverty.
– Hannah Daniel