CHINA> Regional
Homeless invited to come inside in Beijing
By Tan Yingzi (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-11-21 08:21

As winter begins to tighten its icy grip on Beijing, homeless people across the city are being encouraged to move into temporary refuge centers.

Wang Yanchang, who works at a center in Chaoyang district, told China Daily: "Winter is our busiest time and we have been working around the clock to prepare for the arrival of this year's intake."

The city's civil affairs bureau Thursday announced the launch of its annual campaign, held in association with local police, to provide temporary accommodation for thousands of people who would otherwise be forced to live rough.

Forty-three teams from the Chaoyang center are currently scouring the streets of Beijing, looking for those in need of a place to stay, Wang said.

"Most of the people we help come from outside Beijing," Wang said.

"Old, young, men, women; all are welcome."

The center in Chaoyang district, which opened in 2003, can provide accommodation for about 200 people. It has air conditioning, showers, restaurants, laundry rooms, and even a gym and TV room.

People can stay for up to 10 days, while staff try to make contact with their families or the civil affairs bureau in their hometowns, he said.

They are given free board and lodgings, and the centers even pay for their bus or train tickets home.

However, some homeless people shown little interests in going to the centers.

Hu Dongmei, 43, who took her 3-month-old boy to Beijing for medical treatment from Jinhua, Zhejiang province, begged outside a subway station in Beijing's downtown Wangfujing street Thursday. She said she did not want to go to a refuge center.

"The centers are too far from the hospital and the food is not good," she said, adding she would rather pay 150 yuan ($22) a month to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

"But the cost of the my son's treatment is 300,000 yuan, so I have no choice, but come here to ask for people's help," she said.

Refuge centers were set up across China in the wake of a scandal surrounding the murder of Sun Zhigang, a migrant worker from Hubei province.

Sun was beaten to death by patients at a penitentiary hospital in Guangdong province, where he had been sent after being arrested for not carrying his identity card.

At that time, China operated a system of "compulsory custody and repatriation" for all homeless people.