The benches of the Sinchon subway station slowly begin to fill with homeless people as night falls. Among the people that stay the night on those benches, there are some that particularly stand out – those who cover their faces up with bags or hide behind open umbrellas. Taking a closer look, one may find that virtually all of these people are women. These homeless women cover as much of their faces and bodies as possible before falling asleep because of their fear of being seen by others who might do them harm. This growing phenomenon can be seen not only in the Sinchon subway station but in all public places in Korea. In fact, it is a nationwide problem that urgently needs to be addressed and solved.
Currently, women make up a significant portion of the homeless community; they constitute approximately 25 percent of the total homeless population in Korea. According to the Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare, the total number of homeless people in 2016 was 11,340, while the number of women among them was 2929 (25.8%). The problem here is that such a large number of people are living in extremely dire conditions. The homeless women are way more susceptible to physical and sexual violence, harassment, theft, and other forms of crime than men. For example, thousands of women living on the streets are murdered every year and are stolen of their property. In addition, women are frequently lured into rape or sex trafficking by strangers who offer to provide them a free meal or a place to stay. These problems become locked into a vicious circle. Female victims continue to become targets because they do not report the incidents to the police or ask for help, in fear of being arrested for their own illegal activities of sleeping on the streets.
In spite of the seriousness of this issue, the government isn’t doing enough. To start with, most of the current government support for the homeless in Korea goes to men. This is because women are more reluctant to seek help at these government support shelters for the homeless. The underlying reason for this is that they become exposed to more sexual violence at these shelters, since the space allocated for women and men are not separated. Thus, they would rather stay on the streets. In addition, there is insufficient support for the homeless women living in cities outside of Seoul. In fact, there are only 12 shelters where homeless women can stay, but nine of them are in Seoul. Therefore, homeless women residing outside of Seoul have nowhere to turn to.
A lot must be done to resolve such a crucial, yet neglected problem our society is facing. In addition to rectifying the loopholes in the support system to reduce its gender and geographic bias, more light should be shed on the problem of homeless women. While many of us are aware of the growing number of homeless people, we are ignorant about the bigger obstacles women face on the streets than men. After raising more awareness of this issue, a more comprehensive approach must be taken in order to ensure the long-term safety of these women. Shelters and financial support alone aren’t enough; they are only superficial and temporary solutions to such a deep-rooted problem. In fact, the problem is closely tied to key issues that intensify the issue at hand, such as the women’s abilities to achieve financial independence and their mental health. Therefore, seeking solutions that include the provision of education, which would help women find jobs and become financially self-sufficient, is of paramount importance. Also, rehabilitation programs that are well-established and easily accessible are necessary in order for women who are suffering from mental health issues due to harsh conditions to fully recover and live a normal life. Such solutions must be quickly but carefully devised and implemented so that the problems homeless women are facing can be eradicated, and that ultimately, the number of homeless women in Korea can gradually drop to a zero.