New town will leave 1,000 old people without homes

Development project is set to spell the end for a facility in Kwu Tung North where for 16 years private operators have provided aged care

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 02 September, 2013, 4:39am

Over 1,000 elderly people will be left homeless by a development plan in the northeastern New Territories that will force the closure of their aged-care homes.

The private homes have been operating on government land in Kwu Tung North for 16 years.

Now, the 1,100 elderly people living in Dills Corner Garden have until 2017 to move out. That's because the land has also, since 1998, been included in a controversial HK$120 billion development project that would create two new towns in Kwu Tung and Fanling North.

Plans for a third town in Ping Che-Ta Kwu Ling are on hold.

The more than 20 two-storey buildings were married quarters for the British military until the handover. Since 1997, they have housed 16 aged-care homes. The government was keen for operators to set up the facilities, yet that was around the same time it had decided to develop the area.

Wong Cheung-ching, chairman of the Dills Corner aged-care homes association, said he was worried about the impact of the proposed move. "We were invited by the government in 1997 to take over the empty premises … Now, in the name of development, this community will be uprooted and scattered," he said.

Care homes at Dills Corner provided 90 per cent of the aged-care places in North District in the early 2000s, Wong said.

Today, they still provide half of the district's old-age facilities, he said. About 35 per cent of the places at Dills Corner are subsidised by the government.

Wong said the homes had accommodated several thousand elderly people over the past 16 years. "We've helped greatly to ease the shortage of care-home spaces," he said. "Now we've been told to prepare to move, and find a new place to operate from."

A Social Welfare Department spokeswoman confirmed the Dills Corner site would be taken back by 2017. She said the government would find new places for subsidised residents, but for others, it would assist them to find new homes. Operators would have to find new premises.

A Dills Corner place costs HK$3,000 to HK$8,000 per month. About 90 per cent of its residents rely on welfare.

"This place is particularly good for elderly people. My mother's health improved greatly after she moved in," said a chef who has worked at one of the homes for 11 years. He said most of the staff were long-term and it was "like a family". "Hearing about the development made my heart lurch," he said.

Cheung Chun-mei, a carer at Dills Corner for 15 years, feared the closure could have affect the residents negatively. "The idea of uprooting them like this is terrible; the damage it could do to their health and their lives is unthinkable. I can't believe society could be so cold-hearted."

With 15 per cent of the residents aged over 90, and 55 per cent aged between 70 and 90, most of them thought of Dills Corner as the place they would see out their days, Cheung said.

Lawmaker Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung said he hoped the government would consider Dills Corner a special case and exempt it from the plan.

So Kwai-luen, 66, who lives at the Tung Fong Home for the Aged at Dills Corner, said: "I don't support any move, and I don't think any buildings should be torn down." So had a stroke six months after he retired to Guangdong province in 2007. He moved to the aged-care home two years ago because of his medical needs.

"If [the government] has decided that the Fanling golf club - the size of 10 Victoria Parks - next door will not be developed, why can't they keep this little plot, which is home to over a thousand old folks like me who have nowhere else to go?"