Homelessness can shame affluent societies. What sets some apart is how transparently they recognise the scale of it and how effectively they deal with it. The Audit Commission has been looking into Hong Kong’s performance. There is always room to do better in the delivery of social services at this level, but some issues warrant attention to ensure the homeless do not fall under the radar. The first step is to define the size of the problem – or the total number sleeping rough, registered and unregistered. In its latest report, the Audit Commission says official underestimation of the number of homeless hampers efforts to tackle the problem. It has appealed to the Social Welfare Department to look at ways of better determining the number who are unregistered. The Audit Commission also found that fewer than 40 per cent of registered street sleepers received support from publicly subsidised non-government organisations in the past year, although their number had more than doubled in the past decade, from 595 to 1,694. Given that this is an ageing society, a worrying aspect of the surge in street sleepers is that the number aged 50 or above increased more than 2½ times in the last decade, from 323 to 1,070. The Audit Commission report says a larger population of older homeless may be harder to track but the department needed to improve its methods. According to Ng Wai-tung, a social worker for the Society of Community Organisations, Covid-19 has compounded shortcomings in tracking homelessness, creating major problems for rough sleepers, especially when places seen as safe shelters were closed. A 2020 survey that visited 109 McDonald’s outlets across the city found 448 people who slept rough, but social workers lost contact with many under strict Covid-19 rules when dining-in was banned. The government relies on several NGOs for support in helping the homeless and backs their short-term hostels and service teams, which provide visits, counselling, job support, service referrals and hostel placements. Officials should heed the commission’s call for better services and a review of hostel accommodation. City University academic Chan Siu-ming, a former frontline social worker, says government casework targets set with NGOs fell short, especially when it came to the increased number of people on the verge of sleeping rough. He says a survey he conducted last year with other groups showed that up to 30 per cent of rough sleepers did not register for social help. He estimates the total is 3,000. Homelessness is a worldwide issue in dense urban environments, aggravated in many places by the pandemic. It is not necessarily any reason for shame, so long as efforts to address it are proportionate to the problem and not compromised by denial or negative attitudes.