Civic groups call for more fundamental measures than eviction
A homeless man sleeps on the steps in front of Seoul Station, Monday. Earlier in the day, Korail, the state-run railroad operator, forcibly moved homeless people out of the station for the first time amid growing complaints from train passengers. / Yonhap
By Lee Hyo-sik
Dozens of homeless people were forcibly moved out of Seoul Station for the first time early Monday morning, drawing strong protests from those evicted and civic groups opposing what they call an abrupt and unprepared expulsion.
Korail, the state-run railroad operator, said there were no major physical confrontations between the homeless and the Korail officials who expelled them, stressing that it has no choice but to evict them by force from the nation’s largest train station amid growing complaints from passengers. Citizens using the station have been complaining that there are too many homeless people causing inconveniences to travelers and even threatening their personal safety.
Korail officials said they expelled homeless people from Seoul Station at 1:30 a.m. Monday morning and banned them from coming back into the station until 4:30 a.m.
“No homeless people put up a fight when they were asked to leave. We are glad that we were able to execute the mandatory eviction without a problem. It is necessary to make the station a more pleasant and safer place for citizens, which is the most important thing that we should do,” a Korail spokesman said.
He said the homeless were allowed to return to the station after 4:30 a.m.
“They can use the bathrooms and rest throughout the station. But they are prohibited from bringing sleeping bags and mattresses. About 70 homeless people were estimated to be sleeping inside the station, with some 300 spending the night in the surrounding area,” the spokesman said.
According to Korail, nearly 300,000 people use the station a day and many of them experience inconveniences because of the homeless. Some of the homeless who are usually drunk have been reported to harass innocent citizens for no reason.
Comprehensive package of measures
Civic groups helping the homeless have criticized Korail’s forced eviction, arguing that it will threaten lives and cause other adverse side-effects. They held a press conference in front of Seoul Station Monday morning, demanding Korail stop forcibly expelling the homeless from the station. They also held a protest rally at 7 p.m.
“Seoul City’s shelter and job programs are only temporary. They are not enough to solve the problem. The government should provide a comprehensive package of measures ranging from housing, to employment and healthcare if it wants to help the homeless live a normal life,” said Lee Jong-man, administrative director at the Homeless Center.
Lee pointed out that many of the homeless are alcoholics and suffer from a range of illnesses.
“To help them readjust to society, we need them to stand on their own two feet. The forced eviction from Seoul Station cannot be a solution,” he said.
At the same time, concerns are growing that the eviction at Seoul Station will increase the number of homeless people in other stations in the capital. It is said that about 500 homeless people reside in Seoul Station and other railway stations in Seoul.
For its part, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has introduced a range of support programs, including counseling, job arrangement and temporary accommodation, for the people staying in and around Seoul Station.
“We are doing everything we can for the homeless. The city plans to set up a place called the Freedom Cafe where they can rest, eat, sleep and basically do whatever they want. We will have the facility ready near Seoul Station by October,” said an official at Seoul City’s self-support division.
He said the city has secured 10 temporary housing units for those who need a place to stay, adding that nearly 90 homeless people have received 250,000 won each per month in housing subsidies.
“Additionally, 180 homeless people have been hired to do various public-sector services through our job program. Each worker is paid 400,000 won per month. We expect more to take part in our employment scheme,” the official said.