The contrast between rich and poor is one of the striking characteristics of Hong Kong. Beneath the glass towers, under flyovers, in subways and alleys, the homeless and dispossessed live in quiet desperation. They are not numerous, but they have become such an integral part of life that local passers-by scarcely notice. No doubt, they provoke a different reaction in visitors, who may question why such an ostentatiously prosperous metropolis cannot give shelter to the unfortunates in its midst. The survey commissioned by Wan Chai District Board which is reported today was undertaken to put together background data on the homeless in the area, where they are becoming a problem. It contains few surprises. The evidence is there for anyone to see. The vast majority are men, mostly unemployed, without any form of family support and with an average age of 56. Many are sick and have emotional problems. Almost half are drug users or former addicts. Wan Chai's street sleepers tend to congregate around the MTR station, where a methadone clinic is situated and where pushers loiter. The clinic undoubtedly attracts undesirables who prey on addicts, and add to the area's drug problem. But closing down the centres and transferring them to hospitals is not the answer. While this would be pleasant for the people of Wan Chai, it would just shift a social problem to another locality, possibly making matters worse. Some addicts might be put off from attending hospitals, and there could be disruption in waiting rooms. The only solution lies in hostels where welfare care can be provided. It is unrealistic in this economic climate to expect work to be provided for men nearing retirement age. But a permanent home would enable them to establish links with other residents, and offer the beginnings of rehabilitation to break the cycle of drug dependency. It is widely acknowledged that methadone treatment is not a complete answer to addiction. There is also a theory that personality, rather than the drugs, drink or cigarettes in themselves, creates addicts. People without home, family, work or any hope of betterment naturally seek solace where they can find it. They are caught in a vicious circle which can only be broken by outside intervention. Getting these people off the streets is the first step, and it is one that Hong Kong can afford to take.