The first group of four shelters built specifically for vagrants and beggars in Beijing went into operation Friday.
The opening of the shelters marks the beginning of a government program to aid urban homeless. A set of new regulations, approved by the State Council, which is designed to guarantee a basic living for China's urban homeless, also became effective on Friday.
The four shelters are located in Chaoyang, Haidian, Fengtai and Shijingshan districts of Beijing's city proper.
The shelters will help homeless people who cannot afford food or housing, without relatives to help them, and who do not qualify for allowances for urban or rural residents.
Homeless people will be able to stay at the shelters for no more than 10 days, according to the civil affairs bureau of Beijing.
Those who have made a career of begging, and show no inclination of taking up regular employment, will not be helped, said the bureau.
While the vagrants are there, station officials will try to contact the vagrants' relatives or the civil affairs departments of their place of origin to make more permanent arrangements for them.
The Measures on Aid and Management for Urban Vagrants and Beggars was approved by the State Council in mid-July, which aims to provide temporary shelter for the homeless in a bid to maintain social order in cities.
The new regulation was launched to replace the two-decade-old Measures for the Internment and Deportation of Urban Vagrants and Beggars.
The former holding and deportation system for vagrants and beggars in urban areas is no longer suitable for the current situation, said Zhang Shifeng, vice-director of the Social Welfare and Social Affairs Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs.
The new regulation is designed to resolve the problem of urban vagrants and beggars and to improve social relief mechanisms, said Zhang.
It was previously common practice in many big cities to collect street tramps - defined as those "who are without legal papers, nor a normal dwelling place, nor a normal means of support" - and place them in temporary confinement before deporting them to their place of origin.
Legal experts argued that the old practice was contrary to the Chinese Constitution.
However, the new regulation highlights the principle of voluntary participation and free aid and it aims to safeguard citizens' freedom of the person as laid down in the Constitution, Zhang said.
(People's Daily August 2, 2003)