By Thomas Powell
With more than one billion red packets sent out over WeChat during the Spring Festival holiday, it was easy to see your virtual wallet grow thicker by the second. Unbeknownst to many in Guangzhou, however, one organization is using hongbao for a much better cause: to help the homeless on the streets of our vast city.
As of 2011, there were 2.41 million homeless adults in China, according to Feng Fucai, associate professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. While some blame the Chinese hukou system, which withholds social benefits from those living in a different city than they are registered in, others blame China’s economic boom that ushered in an era of unprecedented urban migration.
Given the staggering figures, it wasn’t a difficult choice for the group of volunteers in Guangzhou known as ‘Yue Shan 100’ to pour their energy into helping the homeless.
Every day since 2013, rain or shine, the group of both local and international residents have worked together to improve the lives of their homeless friends, by providing not only food but clothing, daily amenities and even medical assistance for those in need of treatment.
Founder Jackson Kong has seen the group grow from a few friends to nearly 2,000 kind-hearted volunteers who regularly dedicate their own time to the cause.
“We want society to have more positive energy,” Jackson explains. “Currently, we help over 700 homeless friends in just one area of Guangzhou every week, taking them out for meals to learn more about them and to build stronger relationships.”
Cooperating with 15 restaurants that kindly provide hot food every day of the week, the Yue Shan 100 group has forged close bonds with those in need and has so far saved three lives, sought emergency treatment for 20 and helped around 50 people score job interviews to build a new life.
Renee Zhang, who regularly sends red packets to encourage others’ donations in the WeChat group, says it’s clear the homeless are appreciative of and in need of the items given.
“Weekly amounts of RMB10 to sponsor extra snacks or milk is nothing to us, but to see it helping so many people is wonderful,” she says.
In recent years, the government has positively changed its approach to assisting homeless citizens, and now offers shelter and train fares home for migrant workers unable to find work in cities. Fresh reforms to the hukou system also aim to improve social security for migrants living in cities, though progress has been gradual so far, as municipal governments often lack sufficient resources to support their burgeoning urban populations.
This winter, the Yue Shan 100 group arranged a temporary shelter on behalf of homeless migrants in Guangzhou and liaised with local hotels to provide them with daily essentials.
Taking homeless individuals out for dinner at local restaurants, Zhang says, is also a “good opportunity to learn more about them and to find out how we can help them further.”
Between organizing annual events and holding regular collections, the group is always happy to receive contributions and warmly welcomes anyone interested in donating their time.
“Volunteers do not need specific skills to help,” adds Zhang. “All you need is an interest and passion in helping others.”
Want to get involved? Add Renee on WeChat (reneezhangzicheng) for English inquiries or Jackson (kenkong88) for Chinese and learn what you can do to support the homeless in our community.