HOUSING
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City Weekend

Number of rough sleepers in Hong Kong remains double the government estimate, experts say

Welfare organisations suggest about 1,600 people are sleeping on city’s streets

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 18 February, 2017, 4:02pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2017, 6:29pm

The number of homeless people in Hong Kong remains double the figure released by the government, according to community organisations and academics.

There were 1,614 street sleepers without a stable or permanent home in 2015, according to a study by City University and collaborators titled the Homeless Outreach Population Estimation. The figure represents a 14 per cent increase from the previous year, when it stood at 1,414.

But in the Social Welfare Department’s online database of the number of rough sleepers, which it updates monthly, the number of registered homeless was 874 in the 2015-16 financial year.

The discrepancy has long raised concerns about how the government collates its figures.

In a meeting of the Panel on Welfare Services at the Legislative Council on Monday, some members expressed concerns that the figures were “inaccurate” and “much smaller” than the number provided by community organisations, according to a government report on the meeting.

 

In response, the government said its figures were “indicative only and would fluctuate depending on a number of factors, such as economic conditions and the employment status of the street sleepers”.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for the Salvation Army said the number of street sleepers was also being cushioned by the amount of people forced to live in poor quality housing, namely subdivided flats.

“They can’t afford most private housing, and there is a long wait for public housing,” she said. “This problem is not a secret at all.”

This week it was revealed that the waiting time to acquire public housing had increased by a full year in the past 12 months, with thousands of families now facing an average wait of just over four years and eight months, according to the Housing Authority.

Almost 200,000 people were living in 88,000 subdivided flats in 2015, according to the Census and Statistics Department, and their rents rose by about 13 per cent between October 2014 and October 2015.

A further 10,000 people are estimated to be living illegally in industrial buildings or rural areas.

Additional reporting by Naomi Ng