Payout for street sleepers whose possessions were dumped in trash

After government staff threw away the possessions of 19 people living rough in Sham Shui Po, a court awards them HK$2,000 each

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 3:46am

After nine months and two funerals, street sleepers whose belongings were thrown away in a midwinter raid in Sham Shui Po will get compensation.

In the first case of its kind, the government has agreed to pay HK$2,000 to each of the surviving 17 street sleepers who sued, and to the families of two who died.

The street sleepers had previously asked for HK$3,000 and a government apology for wrongfully throwing away their belongings citing the Waste Disposal Ordinance. But the government refused to apologise.

"I daren't comment on whether HK$2,000 is a fair amount or not," said one of the claimants, Cheung Hoi-ngan, 60. "But even if it was just HK$1, I'd accept it, because at least it proves that the government was wrong."

The out-of court mediation agreement was signed yesterday and received court approval.

The 17 will receive the money by November 27.

The court allowed the government more time to arrange for payment to the wives of Leung Chi-ming, 51, and Chan Kin-ming, 57. Leung and Chan died before an agreement was reached. Their cases were adjourned for further hearing on February 26 next year.

The dispute began after a joint street sweep by staff of various government departments in the coldest week in February this year cleared out the belongings of 40-odd street sleepers without notice, using the Waste Disposal Ordinance. Many lost not only clothes and blankets, but money, family photos, identity cards, records of phone numbers and other possessions tucked into the bedding.

When no government department agreed to be held responsible, the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) backed 19 of the street sleepers who were willing to take further action. They first went to court in April.

Cheung, a street sleeper on and off since the 1980s, said he had never expected that the government would apologise to people from such a low social class.

But Ng Wai-tung of SoCO, who represented seven of the claimants in court yesterday, said he was disappointed at the lack of a formal apology.

"No matter what social class, if the government did something wrong, it would need to apologise to its people," he said. "Nevertheless, this is a victory of sorts."