County chief says death rate at homeless shelter ‘relatively high’

But Ma Zhiming won’t confirm media reports that 20 people died at facility within two months

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 9:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 9:17pm

A county government official in southern China admitted that the mortality rate has been “relatively high” at a local shelter for the homeless, after mainland media reported 20 deaths at the facility in less than two months this year.

County government chief Ma Zhiming said on Monday that the centre in Xinfeng county, Guangdong was not licensed to care for homeless people, according to CCTV.

Local authorities had ordered the centre closed, and four people in charge of the facility were placed under coercive measures, the Shaoguan government said in a statement on Monday. Xinfeng is part of Shaoguan city.

The Beijing News reported previously that as many as 20 people at the centre had died between January 1 and February 18 this year. Scrutiny of the facility began after the death there of a 15-year-old boy with autism in December.

Lei Wenfeng, who had gone missing in Shenzhen last August, was found dead at the care centre in December due to typhoid, according to local authorities. He had been taken in by the shelter about six weeks before his death.

Situated at the county’s former detention centre, the care facility was overcrowded and had poor sanitary conditions, the Beijing News report cited someone familiar with the centre as saying.

Ma would not confirm the death toll at the centre, saying an investigation was under way.

He said a preliminary investigation showed that some government staff were involved in the facility, and admitted that its supervision by local government was lax.

Luo Lifang, the centre's legal representative, was detained by local police on March 8 for embezzlement. Previous media reports cited a relative of Luo as saying that several local officials had taken part in running the care centre.

It started operations in 2010 and had been making a profit of up to two million yuan (HK$2.24 million) per year since 2015, the relative said.