More than a thousand elderly people set to be displaced by a new-town development in Kwu Tung have been given renewed hope that they can continue to live together with the nursing home friends many now consider their family.
Two new relocation options have emerged for the 1,300 elderly people living in 16 nursing homes in Dills Corner Garden in Kwu Tung, Sheung Shui. They could be moved to a government site within the new town, or to a planned nursing home project in Tuen Mun on land donated by tycoon Lee Shau-kee.
Welfare minister Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, who will visit those affected today, will have the final say over their fate.
The options were made possible by changes to plans for the new town and - in the case of the Tuen Mun project - an idea floated by lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung in the Post.
The existing plan would scatter the residents to different nursing homes, while compensation would be offered only to those now receiving government subsidies - about a third of the 1,300.
"We would rather stay together until the end of our lives," said 68-year-old Quincy Wong Wing-kin, who has lived in a home without government aid for six years and would consider moving with his "home-mates" to Tuen Mun. "The poorest people in the world are the lonely ones."
Close to one-third of the residents have lived in the serene area for more than ten years; the eldest is now aged 106. Both the Welfare Bureau and the Development Bureau have been reluctant to pledge to resettle the whole community in the same district.
But development officials are now considering creating a site in the new town that could accommodate the residents. The idea gathered pace after a Town Planning Board last week approved a government proposal to increase the space allocated for a GIC (government, institution or community) site in the new town by five hectares to cater for "future needs".
But uncertainties remain. It is unknown if the welfare minister would request the GIC site for the relocation, or if new nursing homes could be built there by 2017 when the elderly will be forced to leave.
Separately, both Henderson Land Development and Pok Oi Hospital said they are open to the idea - raised by Fernando Cheung in an interview with the Post - of relocating the elderly residents to their Tuen Mun project, which is due to provide 2,000 subsidised and private nursing home places by the end of 2017. The site was donated to the hospital by Henderson Land chairman Lee Shau-kee last month.
Pok Oi Hospital chief executive Gary Kwong Kwok-kong said the hospital would back the move if the government approved it. The hospital could not determine who would occupy the subsidised places in the government-funded project, he said.
Tsang Kim-kwong, a spokesman for the Dills Corner homes, said the Tuen Mun proposal could leave more than 200 nursing staff jobless. But Cheung said the priority should be given to the preferences of the elderly residents themselves.
"I don't mind living further [away] if we can still live and laugh together. The home-mates are now my family," 85-year-old Wan Hon-keung said.
A Labour and Welfare Bureau spokeswoman refused to confirm the bureau was looking for a new site for the Kwu Tung residents, but said moving them to Tuen Mun could be unfair to others waiting for a subsidised place.