A roof over his head - but that's all

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 January, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 January, 2004, 12:00am

Though allocated a flat, Cheung Foon-wai struggles to survive

For a man who has slept in the open air for the past decade, a public housing flat would seem to be a gift from heaven. But that's not how Cheung Foon-wai sees it.

The 52-year-old says his will be a dismal new year. Without a job, he lacks the money to install a telephone line and buy furniture or gas burners for the 190 sq ft flat at Cheung Wang Estate, Tsing Yi, that he moved into this month.

Under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance scheme, he is given a monthly allowance of $1,605. The Social Welfare Department agreed to pay his monthly rent - about $1,000.

However, after paying for water and electricity deposits, daily supplies and an Octopus card - about $1,500 in all - he has nearly nothing left in his pockets.

'I cannot afford the $600 to fix the phone line. Every time I make a call, I have to use the phone in a restaurant,' he said. 'I managed to pick up several pieces of furniture from a refuse centre in Tsing Yi. But I need $5,000 to buy and install stoves.'

Mr Cheung, who lost his cleaning job last month, says he will survive because a religious group lent him $500 for a rice cooker. 'With the rice cooker, I can cook plain rice with taro. This is all I can pay for.'

He says his life has not improved a great deal since he was given the flat.

'Unless I find a job, I will still have a hard time making ends meet. And with the amount in allowance I am paid, I cannot afford to travel too much for job interviews,' he said.

Mr Cheung and Ng Wai-tung, a spokesman for the Society for Community Organisation which helped Mr Cheung apply for public housing, both blame the government for having scrapped a number of grants.

In 1999, assistance grants covering removal expenses, telephone bills, spectacles and visits to the dentist were scrapped. The move was criticised at the time as a discouragement to street-sleepers to move into flats. If they remain homeless, their chances of finding a job decrease because they have no contact point for employers.

'It affects people's chances of finding jobs and [so] the employment situation will not improve,' Mr Ng said. 'People like Mr Cheung could get some second-hand electrical appliances from welfare groups, but he might not always find the right piece for his small flat.'

A spokesman for the Social Welfare Department said the government hoped people would seek help from community groups that collected used electrical appliances, but added if people were in dire need, 'the department will grant allowances on a discretionary basis'.