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Beggars can't be choosers of shelters
( 2004-01-12 09:40) (China Daily by Pan Haixia)

While proposing legislation on banning begging remains controversial, Shanghai is facing challenges in dealing with an increasing number of beggars and preventing the disadvantaged and unfortunate from being left further behind.

The municipal government, civil affairs administration, charities and volunteers are prepared to help the poor, but find that the task difficult as their numbers grow.

One of the most prosperous municipalities in the country " by no means short of wealthy would-be benefactors " Shanghai needs to develop a sense of humanity and sympathy for the poor, experts said.

Meanwhile, civil affairs officials are recruiting volunteers to dissuade beggars from working the streets, but to seek government aid, such as stations set up for the homeless.

Part of the problem is the nuisance beggars and homeless cause to pedestrians, just as they do in other cities.

Bearing in mind human rights, however, officials are using persuasion instead of coercion to deal with problems.

Ma Zhongqi, spokesperson from the non-government Shanghai Charity Foundation said the foundation hopes to help impoverished families, especially the old who are sick and children who can't afford education.

It plans to subsidize costs for health and education for some 20,000 families this year, doubling the number it aided last year.

In a survey conducted jointly by the Shanghai Civil Affairs Administration, the Municipal Public Security Bureau and the Shanghai Construction and Management Commission, one-third of 271 beggars surveyed admitted to aggressive activities, such as stopping people or chasing after them on the streets to get money.

"It has already raised complaints from local business owners and residents,'' the survey said.

Only 13 per cent of the homeless people surveyed said they are willing to go to the aid stations.

The growing army of such people on downtown streets has proved to be a hard nut to the city government though it is thinking of ways to deal with the problem.

"This may give some help, but the practice will be far from enough,'' said Gu Changhao, deputy director of the Legal Affairs Office of Shanghai municipal government.

On August 1, 2003 when the State Council abolished the 12-year-old detention and repatriation measures targeting vagrants and beggars who did not have resources in cities, government officials now can only persuade people to give up life on the streets for government aid rather than force them to do so.

Without the worry of being arrested and repatriated to their home villages, more such people prefer the streets to staying in aid shelters.

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