Raided street sleepers hit back
The street sleepers of Sham Shui Po are suing the government, claiming its staff threw away their belongings without warning during a clean-up operation.
Ten of the homeless people affected filed individual cases against the Director of Food and Environmental Hygiene with the Small Claims Tribunal yesterday. They are demanding compensation ranging from HK$3,000 to HK$10,280 for their belongings and the shock of having their few worldly goods snatched from them.
Ng Wai-tung, of the Society for Community Organisation, believes it is the first time street sleepers have sued the government in court for the wrongful disposal of their belongings.
The society, which helped the group file their claims, says another 20 people also lost their belongings in the raid on February 15.
Some of the victims claim they were asleep under the Tung Chau Street flyover when police and staff from the environmental hygiene department arrived, roused them from their slumber and cleared their belongings in front of them.
The blankets, identity cards, travel permits, clothes, phones and other items were thrown into a pile and they were not allowed to retrieve their things. Their belongings were then all removed and thrown away.
Other street sleepers claim they only arrived back at their pitch after the surprise operation to find everything gone. Under the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance, if objects obstruct a street-cleaning operation, or are likely to do so, the authorities may issue a notice requiring the owner to remove it within four hours.
Ng said the street sleepers resorted to legal action after the department, the Sham Shui Po district office and police all refused to accept responsibility.
The district office was responsible for co-ordination before the cleaning operation, the department for the cleaning, and police for maintaining law and order, Ng added.
One claimant, Chan Chi-keung, said that one police officer told him he would have a chance to retrieve his items later. But the opportunity never came.
'We had no blankets,' said Chan, 60. 'Words cannot describe how cold those few days were.'
Chan, an odd-job worker at a hardware store who has been sleeping on the streets for about eight months, said he was afraid something similar would happen in future. 'I don't sleep well any more,' he said.