Homelessness in Shanghai and the Minor Government Response


SHANGHAI — As a financial and economic center, Shanghai is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in China. According to data from the Shanghai Statistics Bureau, the population of Shanghai in 2016 was 24.2 million. Meanwhile, the population of rural migrant workers was 9.72 million, some of whom suffer from homelessness. Therefore, homelessness in Shanghai is a rather severe issue.

Rapid Urbanization

Homelessness in Shanghai is largely due to the rapid development of urbanizations. Some scholars believe that the growth of cities increases the population of homeless people. Admittedly, urbanization creates plenty of job opportunities, which attracts many people to the metropolitan areas. Statistics reveal that 278 million people left and worked away from their hometowns, and urbanization could create another 100 million people living in the cities. This creates problems where the work is not easily accessible for those who do not live in cities or cases where people have to move to find work.

The Hukou System

Shanghai has a population of 25 million. However, it is rare to see any homeless people in the street in the daytime. Homelessness is not only due to the rapid-developed urbanization. The hukou system is a barrier for people to legally live in metropolitan cities. It is a “form of legal identity for a Chinese person” and a kind of social control that highlights the birthplace of residents and limits the people’s migration towards large cities. People whose hukou is not Shanghai often suffer from marginalization; they usually have difficulties in public education, social welfare and insurance due to the system in place.

Limited Government Response

The Shanghai government has made efforts to alleviate homelessness. In 2010, the civil affairs authorities in Shanghai provided shelters for the homeless, in which they could use services like bathing facilities and enjoy hot food. These services were open 24 hours a day. Each shelter accommodates about 40 to 50 beds. Furthermore, local civil affairs departments provided materials like quilts, blankets and coats for the people who refused to live in shelters to help them withstand the cold winter of Shanghai.

However, the effects of the government’s endeavor are obviously limited. On the one hand, due to the constriction of the hukou system, the Shanghai government does not have the responsibility to take care of the non-Shanghai homeless people. On the other hand, some scholars believe that homeless people in Shanghai are “hidden” because authorities do not know the exact number of the population of homeless people. Many homeless people temporarily sleep in 24-hour fast-food restaurants and other locations or even insist that they do have accommodation. As a result, it is difficult to collect the exact population of the homeless in Shanghai.

In addition, homeless people often also distrust or dislike the shelters provided by the government. Some people are not willing to view themselves as “homeless;” meanwhile, they do not want their families to worry about them.

In conclusion, homelessness in Shanghai cannot be alleviated until there is a reform of the hukou policy in China. The Shanghai government should work with the local groups and recruit more volunteers to provide shelter and services for the homeless.

Yilin Che

Photo: Flickr


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