IT'S not what most people would call a home. The people who live together at Holland Hostel, a Kwun Tong residential home for problem youngsters, are initially total strangers. But relationships and how to improve them are the hostel's speciality. 'It's no substitute for a family but an alternative,' said Superintendent Paulison Chan Wing-chung. For the 90 youngsters currently living there, it is a halfway home giving them time to gather their self-confidence and if possible, patch up relationships with their often distant parents. The boys, aged between 11 and 21, have come to the facility as a result of discipline problems at home and at school, shoplifting, running away or maybe a lack of parental care and love. Mr Chan said: 'In some cases, a hostile relationship developed between parents and children because they could not accept the children's poor school results. Some never expressed love for their children.' For others, living at the hostel is necessary as their parents are either in prison, mentally ill or undergoing rehabilitation for drug addiction. With trained staff providing care and counselling, the boys' hostel is seen as a better alternative than a family home where youngsters are subject to abuse, neglect or continual rows. 'The youngsters who come here usually have low self-esteem and feel insecure,' Mr Chan said. 'About one-third have run away from home before.' All the boys are assigned to the hostel under the Social Welfare Department referral system, and about 20 per cent are placed under a court-issued Care and Protection Order. They are allowed to return home at weekends. Many, however, choose to remain in the hostel because it is unsafe to go home or there is no one to take care of them if they go back to their flats. Mr Chan, a veteran social worker, believes it is beneficial to the youngsters to have a change of environment. 'Some have developed better self-confidence,' he said. 'Here, they learn skills for handling inter-personal relationships, something they were not taught at home, and to voice their needs.' Mr Chan, who is 40, and his staff of 31 do not set themselves apart from the teenagers but mix in with their charges, sharing meals and arranging outings to encourage trust and confidence in them and an informal atmosphere. Support is given to those who are frustrated by poor school performance and feel rejected by their parents. 'We talk to their parents too and encourage them to see the potential in their children,' Mr Chan said. Some are reunited with their parents eventually, while others have to stay for a longer period until they can afford to move out. Most of the residents are studying in form three or below, and stay for between one and three years. 'We let them re-integrate with their families after considering the views of our social workers and their parents' situation,' Mr Chan said. 'We also respect the youngsters' wishes and may allow them an extension if they don't want to go home then.' One success story Mr Chan related involved a boy who came to the hostel to escape an abusive parent. The youngster, who stayed at the hostel for seven years, had developed tremendously through living among people of his own age. He is now 20 and has gained admission to a local university's medical school. Mr Chan, who has worked in the hostel since 1977, admits, though, that there are a small number of boys who have problems adjusting to life at the hostel or go back to their previous ways after they leave. At the hostel, the young residents are exposed to positive thinking, a co-operative spirit and disciplined life. Each is required to follow a set of routines, starting with the collection of his pocket money every morning after breakfast, under a scheme designed to help control spending habits. Another rule to follow is to sign in upon return from school in the afternoon. Friday evenings are to be spent cleaning up the living area. Comprising five houses with five shared rooms in each, the hostel is on the same site as its operator, the Hong Kong Student Aid Society, a charity providing care and accommodation services for different age groups. Equipped with a music room, recreation room and a gymnasium, Holland Hostel was established in 1967 through church donations. Now subvented by the Social Welfare Department, it has a capacity for 110 boys or young men. Mr Chan said that despite its long history, people often confuse it with boys' homes, the correctional institutions for young offenders, or orphanages. In total, there are four hostels for male teenagers and three for females in the territory. Like the other hostels, Holland mainly caters for school-going youths, but with the rising number of dropouts who become problem teenagers, Mr Chan believes there is a need for accommodation for them. 'Many school dropouts who have run away from home, have had to stay on the streets,' he said. 'They wouldn't have to do this if they had a place to go to.' Currently, the Salvation Army's Yue Wan Halfway Home in Chai Wan is the only residential home for working and non-working youths. But Holland Hostel is discussing an expansion plan with the Social Welfare Department to provide 15 spaces for working youths. The department has acknowledged the need for expansion. Chairman of the Holland Hostel sub-committee under the society, Thomas Mulvey, who is also chairman of the Hong Kong Family Welfare Society, said the need for such an institution had been heightened by the difficulty of finding foster homes for adolescents, a problem which, he added, the Government had ignored. Services provided at similar hostels would also have to be increased since young people today face greater emotional or psychological problems, Mr Mulvey said.