Korea Daily Op-Ed: Towards the next step in the community's growth

Zu Kim, KRC Board Member (Published in the Korea Daily on May 18)

It was some years ago when my church was located on 6th street in K-town. There were several homeless people living across the church. One of our ‘kwon-sa-nim’ (female elders) boiled eggs for them weekly, and our youth group members occasionally made sandwiches for them. There were at times unexpected moments for the first-time-helpers — the homeless people often refused the food because they just didn’t like it.

People often have unique experiences and/or prejudice against homeless people. Some Korean Americans, based on their decades-old experiences in Korea, consider them as beggars who would even eat food that fell on the ground. For some, the first thing that comes to mind about homeless people is that they are either drug addicts or crazy people. No wonder people think that way. The usual way for people to even notice homeless people is either seeing them begging at the freeway ramps and gas station or being startled on the street by incomprehensible noises they make. But they are not the only kinds of homeless people living in K-town.

I think it was sometime last year. One of my church members, who was a teacher in K-town, found that one of her Korean American students was living in a car and wearing unwashed clothes. She was frustrated in learning that there were not many ways to help the student. Another occasion; some weeks ago, my wife bumped into her old church friend who used to be a Sunday school teacher. She was shocked to find out that her friend had become homeless. My wife has been trying to help her since but it has been a disturbing experience because there are few organizations providing proper wraparound support and safe shelters. There is a success story as well. One of my church members who used to be homeless successfully overcame the homelessness, and is currently working with my wife to help her friend.

Like other busy Korean Americans, I wasn’t able to track the recent measures taken by the city and the debates around the opening of a temporary homeless shelter in K-town. Yes, it is always very important that decisions are made with a proper process, and it is also important to raise our voices when it is not. But let’s take a deep look at where we are coming from. What are we really concerned about? Do we ever care for our neighbors who have become homeless because of financial hardships or mental trauma? Or do we just want to avoid seeing dirty people on the street? Bad news if you are of the latter; there are already 400-some homeless people living in K-town.

The Korean American community’s political power is growing rapidly. We are leading on key immigrant rights issues, and we now have a Korean American city council member in LA. The Korean American community is also known for its religious dedication. I know that the trauma from 4.29 (the 1992 LA Civil Unrest) is strong for Korean Americans, and for some, they still find “Do not ignore our community” a compelling slogan. But isn’t this time to move on? How about asking the city to “provide security for homeless women and children in the shelters” or “expand the availability of culturally competent wraparound services for the homeless” instead