The Hub centre reaches out to underprivileged Hong Kong children

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 January, 2014, 5:20am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 January, 2014, 5:20am

For decades the Reverend Bill Crews has worked to help homeless and disadvantaged young people in his home country of Australia. Now, he has turned his attention to Hong Kong.

Crews, 69, was in Sham Shui Po last week to visit the new drop-in youth centre that he established with two Australian businessmen based in the city - David Boehm and Bruce Stinson.

Called The Hub, it is in a former church that underwent months of refurbishment before opening last July.

Crews, chairman of the Exodus Foundation in Australia, which provides shelter and assistance to the homeless, said the location of the centre was about providing help where it was most needed. "It was a shock when I first came to Sham Shui Po," he said, describing the contrast between the district and affluent areas of Hong Kong.

"The difference is staggering. You will find a family in a brand-new, expensive Mercedes-Benz driving past people who have nowhere to sleep but on the street; it's mind-blowing."

Last September, the government set the city's first official poverty line and identified 1.31 million citizens as living below it. Of this group, one in five children - or 208,800 youngsters - has been identified as poor.

The centre was established after a 2012 charity ball in Hong Kong to raise money for a programme helping street children in Bangkok, which was more successful than anticipated. Excess funds went to creating The Hub.

The centre caters mainly for six-to-18-year-olds and provides English classes, a mentorship programme, after-school activities and family events.

So far, 130 children aged between six and 12 have signed up for activities, with about 20 teenagers and 100 parents also becoming members.

Vancy Pang Wing-sze, service manager and a social worker at the centre, said part of The Hub's goal was to instil hope for children who may think they are destined to remain poor, citing the example of a bright teenager who said all she wanted was a job at 7-Eleven so she could pay the bills.

Peter Keller, who heads up the centre's fundraising efforts and has called Hong Kong home for more than four decades, said children living in poverty were often forgotten about.

"The number of children in poverty is somewhere between 200,000 and 250,000, which is totally unacceptable for a city as wealthy and charitable as ours."

For Boehm, the location of the centre was crucial.

"We chose Sham Shui Po as it was the district identified by the government as having the largest number of children living at or below the poverty level in their 2009 report," he said.

The concept of the centre was to provide a refuge where children could go to study, meet their friends and "just simply play", Boehm said.