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Poverty

Hong Kong street sleepers plead for more time as officials plan site clearance of footbridge home

About 13 homeless people sleep under Yen Chow Street footbridge in Sham Shui Po but government has told them to move out by July 12

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 7:32pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 June, 2018, 8:43pm

About a dozen street sleepers and homeless advocates in Hong Kong pleaded with government officials for leeway ahead of a planned site clearance and also discussed the long wait for public housing.

One of a group of about 13 homeless men who usually sleep under the Yen Chow Street footbridge in Sham Shui Po said he hoped the Home Affairs Bureau would give them more time at their spot.

On June 8, the bureau’s Sham Shui Po office posted a notice telling the street sleepers to stop occupying the space under the footbridge by July 12, and to leave the area with their belongings.

“I won’t know what to do when the time comes,” said a 63-year-old man who gave his surname as Yuen. “I’m just hoping for more time to sleep on the streets as I wait for public housing.”

Yuen said he might have to move to a nearby park if his usual spot is cleared.

High rents and long queues for public housing have meant the ranks of homeless people have swollen in recent years.

According to the Social Welfare Department, there were 1,127 registered street sleepers last year, a 51 per cent increase over the past five years. But in the same period, room at subsidised dormitories for the homeless rose less than 10 per cent, from 202 bed spaces to 222.

High rents + long public housing queues = more homeless

Ng Wai-tung, a community organiser from the Society for Community Organisation (SOCO), said there had been up to 10 clearances in the area over the past five years, but the government had done nothing to find housing for those affected.

“It is disappointing … this act will not solve the homeless issue in Hong Kong,” he said after the meeting, adding that the government would not push back the deadline. “The result of these clearances was similar, street sleepers returned to the streets and continued being homeless.”

Social workers tried to help them find a place to rent, Ng said, but it was very hard for identify anywhere suitable because of financial difficulties and soaring rents.

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“The maximum amount you can get under the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme is HK$1,835 (US$235), which only allows you to rent a bed space with no windows and bedbugs,” Ng said. “The living conditions are really bad especially in the summer, which is one of the reasons why a lot of homeless return to the streets.”

Ng said street sleepers could only stay for up to six months in public dormitories. If they failed to find housing in that time, they would end up on the streets again.

A single person waiting for public housing could find themselves on the list for more than 20 years because of a points system for applications, Ng said.

Ng hoped to find a way to settle the homeless, and called on the government to come up with policies and to build “midterm dormitories” in Sham Shui Po, allowing street sleepers to stay for at least three years while they waited for public housing.

The government said it was willing to meet SOCO and the Salvation Army a week before the deadline to discuss how to deal with the clearance issue.