Fears for homeless set to be evicted from Hong Kong pier as temperatures drop

Eight people who have been living at Kwun Tong Public Pier will be evicted on Friday

PUBLISHED : Monday, 08 January, 2018, 8:02pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 09 January, 2018, 9:42am

Concerns have been raised for the welfare of several homeless people set to be evicted from a public pier in Kowloon this week, as temperatures were set to plunge on Monday night.

Eight street sleepers who have been living at Kwun Tong Public Pier for as long as three years were ordered by the Lands Department and the Transport Department on December 28 to leave by January 12. The Lands Department, citing the Land Ordinance, said the eight had committed “unlawful occupation of unleased land”.

Liu Kin-wai, a senior transport officer responsible for public transport issues in Kwun Tong, said the authority was trying to “maintain the normal operations of the public pier”.

According to the Land Ordinance, if the street sleepers were found guilty of refusing to leave, they could each be fined at least HK$500,000, HK$50,000 for each additional day of “continuous offence” and imprisoned for six months.

Ng Wai-tung, a community organiser with the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) who has been helping the street sleepers, said the eight were worried about how to cope with the low temperatures – which were set to dip to eight degrees Celsius on Tuesday, with strong winds and light rain.

Ng recalled an incident last December where a street sleeper in his seventies in Sham Shui Po got sick during a cold night and later died without an ambulance being called. The experienced helper of homeless people worried that a similar fate could befall those sleeping on the pier and in other public spaces, such as a footbridge in North Point, a tunnel in Happy Valley and a park in Sham Shui Po where he observed more evictions in the past year.

According to a survey carried out by SoCO in 2015, at least 1,614 individuals were found living on the streets of Hong Kong, an increase of 200 since 2013.

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Ng said there was no temporary shelter for the homeless in Kwun Tong when cold weather warnings were issued by the Observatory. Therefore they had to walk at least 30 minutes uphill to the nearest shelter at a community centre in Lam Tin.

At a meeting with representatives from three official departments – the Home Affairs Department, the Transport Department and the Lands Department – at the Kwun Tong District Council on Monday afternoon, Ng asked authorities to postpone the eviction until at least March – after Chinese New Year and when the weather gets warmer.

According to Ng, the official representatives admitted that there was no urgent need to remove the street sleepers and they would “consider” the request. The authorities did not promise to call off the operation on Friday or set a date when they would announce the results of their consideration.

Ng also called on authorities to open a temporary shelter in the community centre at the Tsui Ping Public Estate in Kwun Tong – which is 20 minutes’ walk away from the pier, and in the long term, allow the street sleepers to stay in the subsidised dormitories operated by the social welfare authority for up to three years instead of the current six months.

Olivia Chan, an outreach officer from the Christian Concern for the Homeless Association, who was also at the meeting, said the officials insisted that it was unlikely they would change the eviction plan. “If the government says they care for the people, how can it drive people to a roofless space when they know the weather is turning bad?” Chan said.

Ng Kit-hing, 64, lived on the public pier for one and a half years since leaving his family and home in Chai Wan.

Standing next to the “collective home” consisting of cardboard, boxes, umbrellas and other sundries, Ng had to have his knee-long coat zipped up to his chin to defend himself against the cold wind and rain coming from three sides of the pier open to the sea. He just recovered from a cold and said he did not want to get sick again.

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“The situation can be worse if we have to leave during such weather. Our clothes and belongings will be soaked in cold rain,” Ng said.

Ng said he and his peers would not go to the Lam Tin shelter because it was hard for an old man like him to walk uphill and the food there would be too expensive.

“The government gave me some HK$1,800 food subsidy every month and one meal in Lam Tin can cost more than HK$30. How can we survive there?” Ng said.

Ng also avoided moving to the temporary dormitories operated by the government. “There are many drug users. And occupants there often clash for trivial issues such as unwanted movements caused by someone climbing to the upper deck of a bunk bed,” Ng said.

Moreover, the HK$2,600 rental subsidy offered by the government would not be enough for them to rent a modest sub-divided room in Kwun Tong, Ng said.

In the last eviction Ng experienced around October and November last year, the officials gave them just 30 minutes to clear all of their belongings and anything left behind was thrown away. Ng said he lost 70 per cent of his personal items, including “a whole [case] of second-hand clothes that I hadn’t put on for once”.

Although Ng was recently offered a job in a pharmacy in Cheung Sha Wan and could rent a room near his workplace, he decided to join the meeting with officials on Monday afternoon.

“I had to speak up for the other eight people living on the pier because they will have to leave on Friday when the officials come but they don’t know where to go. This is miserable,” Ng said.

Ng criticised the authorities for “treating us like trash”.

“The officials simply put up the eviction orders and didn’t discuss with us any possible place to go for short and long terms,” he said.