Homeless II - Photo Exhibition of Street-sleepers

Introduction
About SoCO Words from Photographer Author's note Stories of the Street-sleepers Sponsorship & Feedback
History of Streetsleepers Information of Streetsleepers Football Team Dawn Order form Contact SoCO
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Five years ago, SoCO presented the photos of street-sleepers for the very first time. Today after five years, some of these street-sleepers have their living improved, yet some of them still wandering at the edge of homeless. SoCO captures their life again with some new street-sleepers telling why they come to bottom of valley in their life.

Date: 16 June (Sat) to 21 June (Thu) 2007

Time: 10:00am to 10:00pm

Venue: Exhibition area E3 and E4, Cultural Centre, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon.


Preface

One night, when visiting a 40-odd year old street-sleeper who slept at the back lane of a staircase, I met, at the back lane where black dirty water was dripping, a 50-odd year old woman whose employment was to wash bowls. She asked: Why do you help the street-sleeper when he is stronger than I am?

On another occasion, when seeking sponsorship from a large enterprise, I came across a member of the enterprise's senior management. He asked: When there are so many people needing help in this society, why do you choose the street-sleepers?

Street-sleepers are perceived to be giving up themselves, reluctant to face life positively and a burden to the society because of their reliance on the Comprehensive Social Security Allowance. Hong Kong's conventional saying "So long as you are willing to work, there is no reason why you can't find a job" is, since time unknown, no longer true. Hong Kong, praised as the "international financial centre", can no longer accommodate those Hongkongers who were regarded in the past to possess unusual skills.

One street-sleeper was previously a rare scaffolding master who could do the work dangling on wire. He cannot use his skills in the ebb of the construction industry. Another street-sleeper specialized in being an understudy in films. A man with long hair, his specialty was to act as female ghosts flying around. The film industry now offers insufficient employment and even has to be rescued with public funds. The flying ghost and dangling master can but lament: "It's useful even if you can fly."

When everybody is holding lively discussions about the lower-class society, street-sleepers have been washed to the lowest stratum for ever. Sometimes, they are even washed away and forgotten.

In 2002, SoCo published the first book Living in the Wilderness, which recorded the situation of street-sleepers. The book contained records of those street-sleepers who lost their friends, relatives and property overnight in the financial turmoil from 1999 to 2002. That was the peak period of the street-sleepers, who came from various social strata. At night, they came from different directions. What in most demand was paper cartons to be spread on the floor for sleeping.

After a lapse of eight years, it appears from statistics that the situation of street-sleepers has improved. On the other hand, however, there is a gradual drop in the age of street-sleepers. The 20-odd year old street-sleepers have become a community spending their days in internet bars. The education level among them becomes higher and higher. Some even had studied in universities or were previously senior government officials. They have been living in a helpless cycle: unemployed ... find casual jobs ... unemployed ... sleep in the streets again.

Actually, what the street-sleepers need is not the society's special treatment. We merely hope that there can be more care and less discrimination in the society. More than one street-sleeper have the following experience. There is no response to your job application when the company sees that your address is a street-sleepers' home in Sham Shui Po. The street smart street-sleepers have become wiser. They put their address as No. 15A, Yuen Chau Street, and then received a response to their applications.

How small but meaningful are their wishes - to be able to laugh with their mouths open and to attend job interviews with their heads high. Street-sleepers lack sanitary habits owing to sleeping in the streets for a long time. Not a few of them were drug addicts and many are troubled by decayed teeth. They merely hope that someone would help them to deal with their teeth problem, a burden which they cannot shoulder by themselves, such that they will not have to lower their heads when attending job interviews.

It is encouraging that three years ago, the first Dawn Light Football Team was formed by street-sleepers. They even had the chance of playing in Scotland and South Africa. "Never thought even street-sleepers can represent Hong Kong in competitions", one of them said happily.

On the football pitch, the street-sleepers who used to be in low spirit have now regain self-confidence, like the senior alumni in Shaolin Football, by becoming goal-keeper with 40-in waist or Maradona of Sham Shui Po.

Hope all senior alumni, male or female, could come back to the football pitch and resume your position as soon as possible.

Ho Hei Wah

Director, SoCO

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Introduction of SoCO

Society for Community Organization (SoCO) firmly believes that everyone should be entitled to equal rights. Equal opportunity for participation and fair distribution of social resources are the foundation of human rights. In the face of the widening disparity between the rich and the poor, and the increasingly restrictive political arena, we stand firm in our crusade to establish an equal society and to build a strong power base for the people. We are motivated by a common dream, and that is: "Let us work hand in hand and shoulder to shoulder to build a caring, equal and just society".

SoCO is an incorporated, non-profit-making and non-governmental community organization. It was formed in 1972 by church people and was financially supported by donations from churches, overseas funding bodies, the Community Chest and individuals. SoCO has, through civic education programs and social actions, nurtured grassroots people with a sense of civic responsibility so that they can flex their political muscle. These people have, during the course, regained their self-confidence and cemented with one another to champion for an equal social system.

Grassroots people are struggling day in and day out to keep their head above water. It is most scornful to see economic development that brings social inequality. These deprived cannot enjoy our economic success. They have been snubbed and fallen into oblivion. Standing in the line of dejection are caged lodgers, tenants with financial difficulties and living in appalling conditions, aged singletons, street-sleepers, ex-offenders, mentally ill, mothers with no one-way permit to live in Hong Kong, families made up of new immigrants and boat dwellers, etc. They are our serving targets.

In the coming years, SoCO will stand four squares behind the grassroots in supporting them fight for their rights and social justice. By doing so, we hope that we can realize our common dream of making "all members of human family equal".

In 1999, SoCO started the Streetsleepers' Project. Streetsleepers have long existed in Hong Kong. Due to the recent economic downturn and the shift of industry to the mainland China, more people become unemployed and the problem of street-sleeping becomes more serious. Some of them are even abandoned by the society and each streetsleeper has his own story.

These grassroots people, for nearly half a century, contributed quietly to the development of Hong Kong. Now, they cannot find a dignified living. We are living in an affluent society, with no lack of resources, but it lacks of care and concern. We hope to arouse the attention of both the Government and members of the public of their plight. We strive to forge caring for others and to build up our sense of duty to fellow citizens in this apathetic society.

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Words from Photographer Lei Jih-sheng

I have been in the photo-journalism and news business for 18 years and because of my work I have visited nearly every place and witnessed joy, sadness and massive changes throughout Hong Kong. I've witnessed many unusual things. Nevertheless, it was not until I photographed a particular report on a particular homeless person that I had a stronger understanding of our community and understood the social responsibility that the media and its workers should have.

I began to structure and photograph this book in 1999 and it has taken me eight years to complete. The number of homeless people varies in accordance with the ups and downs of the economy and, over these years, together with social workers, I've visited over 100 homeless people and searched virtually every street normally frequented by the homeless.

Once at mid-night when I was taking photographs, I witnessed more than 10 homeless people sleeping together outside the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui. I also met the woman known as the 'Queen of Apliu Street' at 2 a.m. in Sham Shui Po - she works 20 hours a day selling second-hand goods. During the heat of summer I saw more than 10 people sleeping without clothes at a homeless shelter and on one winter morning, at dawn, I visited dozens of people who were sleeping in the cold Yau Ma Tei shelter. I've also met many people who no longer live a life of homelessness, but have become members of the Dawn soccer team and are now self-sufficient.

The person who impressed me most was 'Gang Boss'. When I met him 8 years ago, he and his pal lived in a corner of Tung Chau Park. His pal had lost his leg because of a drug overdose and Gang Boss also needed crutches to walk. Once, I went with a social worker to the park to see them and we gave them a bag of white bread. I have a lasting impression of both of them wolfing down the bread; they told us that they had not eaten for two days.

Gang Boss went to jail for a while and his pal died in the street as a result of a drug overdose. Recently, I went to see Gang Boss again. With the help of social workers he shook off his drug habit and he no longer needs crutches to walk. He became a Christian and lived with a new girlfriend in a simple room. Now he also assists social workers to help other homeless people. That is a big change!

Another impressive person was Uncle Xie. Uncle Xie was a tailor who still worked everyday despite being more than 90 years old. He lived with his mentally retarded daughter behind a shop in Sham Shui Po. When I first visited him with a social worker, his first words to us were, "Go away, I have arms and legs and need no help." Although Uncle Xie was very poor he still worked and required no help from others. His pride was remarkable. When I last tried to visit him, neighbors told me that he had already passed away and they didn't know where his daughter had gone.

Immediately before he died, he was still a homeless person sleeping on the street.

Five years ago when I completed Volume I of my homeless persons photo album, I gave a copy to Donald Tsang, who was at the time Chief Secretary. He flipped through the book and asked, "Does Hong Kong really have that many homeless people?"

We all know that homeless people live at the bottom of society. It is terribly easy for our community to neglect them. It is also difficult to imagine that Hong Kong as one of world's richest communities still has groups of homeless who live below the poverty line. In fact, every homeless person has a story behind him, and their homelessness to a certain extent is attributable to the failure of our society to address the basic needs of people at the bottom. I hope this volume will raise both people's understanding of homelessness and their concern with homelessness. I hope in near future the problem of homelessness in Hong Kong can be completely resolved.

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Author's note Ho Mei Wah


"Please sit anywhere you like."

They obviously take the street as their homes and have no personal belongings. However, every time you visit the street-sleepers, they find a clean stool somewhere and ask you to be seated.

In view of my work as a reporter, I always talk to and interview different people every day. The experience is not always good . I have met senior government officials who, while shaking hand with you (actually only touching your hands lightly in order to save energy), look in the opposite direction. There are wealthy businessmen who listen to mobile phones during the interviews.

However, every interview with the street-sleeper friends is a pleasant experience. They are friendly and frank. It is difficult to imagine that the person in front of you was once a triad leader, a thoroughly addicted morbid gambler or a rebellious youth who ran away from home and spent tens of hours continuously on playing amusement games.

Most of the interviews are held at night in football pitches or beside the Victoria Harbour near the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. With a clear sky above my head, listening to the street-sleeper friends' stories makes me feel more comfortable and more pleasant than doing an interview on the Italian genuine leather sofa of a 6-star hotel.

What is most impressive is that the street-sleeper friends are full of hope for the future. Despite their disappointing experience, they are optimistic and take it easy. Be he formerly a manager of a big restaurant with tens of subordinates, he now takes up a lower position as delivery works of cafes. Be they formerly property owners served by domestic helpers in the mainland, it is commonplace for them to clean a hundred toilets every day now. Forgetting as quickly as possible the good old days before reunification when they earned thirty to forty thousand dollars per month, they are now doing two jobs every day in order get back all that they have lost. All those are portraits of the present street-sleepers.

Their hope is to transfer from the street to the street-sleepers' homes, from the street-sleepers' homes to a 50 square feet bed space and from such a bed space to a 200 square feet wood-partitioned cubicle. Moving into public housing is a magnificent target in life, the achievement of which is to be celebrated with fire-crackers.

During the financial turmoil In 1999, when Living in the Wilderness I was compiled, the economy of Hong Kong as a whole was at its bottom. That was the peak period of the street-sleepers. I cannot forget, even up to now, the classical scene outside the Hong Kong Cultural Centre of several hundred people shouting "One, two, three - let's open the paper carton to sleep!"

Last year, when compiling Living in the Wilderness II, Hong Kong's economy appeared to have improved. The stock market rose to all-time high repeatedly. People madly queued up to draw lots for new shares in order to make quick profit. The street-sleepers, however, did not disappear. They relived the experience of sleeping in the streets between paper boards and the sea breeze. Talking to the new-generation street-sleeper friends about their feelings from street-sleeping, who can say that today is Hong Kong's best time in the last twenty years?

On the first day this year, while touring in the mountain district of Taiwan, I received an SMS from a street-sleeper friend: "Wishing you more prosperity and greater happiness in the New Year!" Though he did not even have a roof above his head, he did not forget to care from his heart for other people. He has optimistic expectations for the future. So, ... how about us?

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Stories of the Street-sleepers

   

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    "Jobless" Female Ghost and Stand-in of Lam Ching-ha Long Hair

    He may have the same name - "long hair" - as Legislative Councilor Leung Kwok-hung but that is where the similarities end. The Long Hair we are talking about is younger and more stoutly built, but it is his flowing hair that has provided work for him as a film "stand-in". "I always acted the part of female ghosts," he says. "Once I jumped from eighth floor of a building."

    Long Hair has made the small room of an industrial building in Kowloon Bay his home. It is well furnished and he leads a far better life than most homeless people. He has bowls of goldfish, a cupboard full of videos and DVDs, old-fashioned toys and a Hi-Fi system. He has managed to turn a repair room for air-conditioners, with a floor area of less than 100 square feet, into a loving and warm place.

    Long Hair's family migrated to Canada and he, the eldest child, insisted on coming back to Hong Kong to live on his own. His relationship with his family ended when he left Canada. He was 19 years old at the time and joined the film industry when it was prospering in the 1980s. Introduced by friends, Long Hair started his career as an apprentice actor and was promoted to the role of stand-in later. His salary more than doubled.

    He was involved in the filming of a series of ghost films. Having long hair, he specialized in playing female ghosts and even acted as the stand-in for famous film star Lam Ching. He earned between 300 and 400 dollars a day and led a good life. His next job as a seafood merchandiser provided him with an even better standard of living.

    However, when Hong Kong went into recession, the film industry suffered and Long Hair lost his job. In 2002 he started sleeping at the Lung Cheung Road Park occasionally and felt great despair.

    Fortunately Long Hair is also a good air-conditioner technician. His boss - Mr Chow - selected him from many apprentices for his great strength in lifting air-conditioners weighing 300 pounds. His boss offered him a place to live in the factory which he has turned into a comfortable home.

    Having a stable income and a place to live, the long haired ghost has relinquished his floating life for a more stable one. He even makes use of his strength to help other homeless people.

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A gambling addict rebuilding his life Chor Pat

New casinos are appearing one after another in Macau and the brightly lit gaming tables provide a backdrop to life's drama. Tales of lucky gamblers sweeping the board make front-page news; such as the 16-year-old girl who recently won MOP$740,000 playing slot machines.

But what about all those who went broke?

Wong Chor Pat lost almost everything in Macau - he gambled away not only his life savings, but also his family and home. To repay his debts, he applied for more than twenty credit cards. His younger brother and ex-colleague paid an even higher price - they gambled away their lives.

"I lost control of myself completely when it came to gambling. Absolutely pathetic! All I could see were images of stacks of banknotes; nothing whatever could distract me. If my wife was standing right next to me, I wouldn't notice her at all. I was that addicted to gambling," said Chor Pat, a rotund man, recalling his past obsessive behaviour. Although he spoke as if he had given up gambling altogether, he had only just stopped a few months ago. He worried that, like a smoker trying to kick the habit, he might not be able to stand the withdrawal symptoms. So, he thinks of himself as still being 'under observation', rather than 'fully rehabilitated'.......

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The Invincible Hung Ying

The 58 year-old Hung Yin has multiple identities. Not only is she a security guard who works 12 hours a day with a daily salary of HK$200, she is also sometimes a cleaning lady who washes more than a hundred toilet bowls a day. She successfully applied to settle in Hong Kong, only to receive the news in shock a few days later that her husband has passed away. She thereby became a new immigrant without a companion and without a shelter. Having no place to stay, she became an experienced homeless woman. Hung Yian's multiple identities also shows one thing - that she is one of the typical weak minority grassroots in Hong Kong.

But the word 'weak' does not go in line with describing Hung Yin's personality. It seems like the words "vitality" is always imprinted on her face everytime one sees her. It is as though she is destined to be 'invincible'.

She, who is still strong as a bull at the age of 58, insists in not receiving social welfare, but to live by her own efforts. She obtained a security license and even graduated with merit. She also took home assistant courses and the unyielding her is recently planning to join a parental course to help young mothers in raising their babies, to earn a little more.

Hung Yin is not unfamiliar with Hong Kong. Before she came to settle in Hong Kong, she would come every now and then to visit her husband. She participated in the July 1st Demonstration in year 2003 and 2004 with her husband, and is still keeping the photograph she took on that occasion by her bedside in street sleeper's shelter. She well understood the discontent and anguish felt by the ordinary citizens of Hong Kong. "This government cares less about the weak minority groups, and only serves the rich and powerful. It does nothing to alleviate the situation faced by the poor, and simply watch us kill ourselves in desperation. But we are all Chinese afterall."

2 years ago, she came from Guang Zhou to Hong Kong to settle down, but was faced not long after with the unfortunate death of her husband. The Housing Authority then subsequently reclaimed her husband's public housing flat in Ma Tou Wai, and she has been living on her own and homeless ever since......

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Ah Lung - The Melancholic University Student

His face is half covered by long hair and with his soft voice the 28-year-old Ah Lung is a portrait of the handsome yet melancholy protagonist in a romantic movie. Ah Lung told us that when he could not sleep during the time that he slept out at the local football field, he loved to wander alone around the streets of Shum Shui Po. He really enjoys the tranquility and solitude - and it would be very romantic if it was a film, but the reality is sadder - as it is real-life in Hong Kong......

During the period when he was sleeping out in the football field, he got to know SoCO and joined their football team. Although Ah Lung looks gentle and quiet, he took on the responsibility of captain and led his team - a team comprising people from all walks of life - in matches as far afield as South Africa.

Ah Lung is a good team leader and keeps morale high by practicing frequently, regardless of the weather conditions. The once solitary young man has now become happier as he has met a group of friends through football. Although they all have their own - some difficult - stories, they become 'all-for-one' once the match actually begins.

When he is unclothed, you can see a U-shaped tattoo running from the upper part of his body down his back - its symbolic meaning is that "one principle runs through it all". It is a proverb from Lunyu, The Analects of Confucius, which is also Ah Lung's motto in life.

"I really want to finish my design course, this is my long cherished wish." said Ah Lung. Since his return from the football matches in South Africa, he has worked as a courier to save up for his tuition fees and recently spent $10,000 for a 3-month design course. Now he wishes to get into the School of Design in The Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He rented a private flat earlier this year and has moved out from the shelter for the homeless.

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    The Soldier from Nepal Rai Bhim Raj

    38-year-old Bhim is an experienced soldier. As part the the British armed forces, he once served in Bosnia and Korea, before coming to Hong Kong. Well-trained in combat skills, he became special security guard for rich families after the Handover, and held a position higher than most ordinary security guards. However, along with Hong Kong's economic decline, less and less rich families needed the service of security guards. The whole troop of former British Gurkha soldiers soon became jobless. Deprived of an income, Bhim once stayed in a homeless shelter in Yaumatei. Being afraid, he and two other homeless Nepalese men spent the whole night sitting up. Later, a social worker found him a place in a street sleepers' shelter. But due to a language barrier, Bhim could not communicate with other residents; he left on his first day.

    Bhim actually possesses good credentials - knowing 4 languages (English, Korean, Indianan, and Pakistani). If he were a Hong Kong citizen, we would greatly commend this Hong Kong fellow for having talents in multiple languages. On the other hand, not knowing Cantonese and not being familiar with the Hong Kong community, Bhim feels that he has abilities which are of no use, and hence when he went to the Labour Department to seek employment, he wrote English as his only language, believing that the other languages that he know will serve him no use. "For Korean, I can still understand, but Cantonese is really difficult to learn¡K"

    Recently, Bhim received a 2-month contract to work as a security guard with around 6,000 per month but he is still worrying about his living after it. His dream to live in Hong Kong is not over yet, and what he wishes the most is to be eligible to apply for his 18 year old son to come to Hong Kong, to then live together and make money, and finally return to his hometown in Nepal to be reunited with his wife. "This is my dream."

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Patrick, old pal of film star Lau Ka-ling

"From 1996 to 1999 I spent Christmas at the center for four consecutive years. I hated myself and made a promise that if I was admitted to the center again, I would have no hope for the future. Since then Patrick has never taken drugs and has found a new job. He wanted to reunite with his seven year old son and wife and was willing to take any job that would help him do so.

Patrick took a job making food deliveries at a local restaurant but the recovery of the economy in 2006 did not bring him good fortune. He lost his job and went back to sleeping at the football field. "The landlord of the restaurant I was working in at Sham Shui Po wanted to raise the rent. The boss has no choice but to move somewhere with a lower rent. But the business closed after six months because the number of customers fell at the new location and the boss dismissed us."

Patrick spent a lot of time thinking as he slept in the football field in Fung Shu Street, looking up into the sky. "I asked myself whether I was not diligent. I have tried my best to do my job and enjoy it. I paid my family $2000 to $3000 a month out of a monthly salary of $6000. When I had spare money, I bought my wife new clothes to make her happy. Why is my destiny so bad?"

After 20 years in the catering industry, Patrick had gone from being a manager in a good restaurant to being made redundant as a food delivery person. He decided to leave the industry to start a new career. He completed a course in property management and planned to be a professional security guard. "There is a brighter prospect for the property management industry," he says. "It is professional. Also it is a career that continues after the age of retirement."

One day Patrick bumped into the film star Lau Ka-ling who is a friend from his old life. "We chatted but I avoid talking about about myself too much. Many things were implicit," he says.

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The Foreigner as a Street-sleeper Chris

After Hong Kong's reunification with the mainland, many British moved back to the UK. But Chris thinks Hong Kong is his home. Britain does not belong to him. "British walks slowly, works slowly, likes complaining. Hongkonger walks fast, effecient and everyone is energic."

He loves birds. He is touched by the friendlness of many Hong Kong people. He couldn't find his well feeling in Britain. He pointed at a friend, who was enjoying himself, and said: "For example this gentleman, he is the most friendly and sincere person I have ever met. We chat every evening."

Chris described the Cultural Centre as the most perfect hotel.

"I have fresh air, nice environment and sea view here. I see many happy happy families, many couples holding hands. They made me feel life is good. More important is the big clock, I know instantly what tims it is now every morning I wake up." he pointed at the $20 watch he was wearing, it has been broken and was the third one. None of the watch was as accurate as the big clock. "If the Clock Tower in Tsim Sha Tsui stops, my life will stop." Chris compares living with the clock.

Chris likes Hong Kong no just becuase of the clock and friends.

He had married a Hong Kong woman and has a daughter. They divorce when his daughter was four years old. He said the most valuable thing he has is the daugher who lives in Aberdeen. Every month he can see her for two hours and takes her to McDonald's.

Chris does not feel bad by sleeping at the Cultural Centre. But he never begs. "I am afraid if my daugher's classmaes bumped into me and saw me begging, I would embarase her. "Although he has been broke for many years, but when his daugher was mentioned, Chris still showed the worriness always found in fathers."......

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Cultural Centre's Street Sleeping Pioneer - Little Baldy

 

Cultural Centre, also known as "Cultural Hotel" is a landmark in Hong Kong's street sleeping contemporary history. It has witnessed the ups and downs of Hong Kong economy. Little Baldy is the pioneer of street sleeping at the Cultural Centre, who has been sleeping there for 10 years since the 1990s. A few years ago, he was not homeless anymore as he was allocated a government flat. But in 2005 he lost his home, so he returned to his first refuge.

The Cultural Centre is visited every night by rich folk and officials. One night, when security guards added metal barriers to fence off the way for the Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was coming to watch a performance, Little Baldy quarreled with them. "Why do you have to fence us off? Both Tsang Yam-kuen and I are Hong Kong residents. I have greeted him and he greeted me back. It is a harmonious society. Why do you have to fence us off?" he asked.

Street sleepers dwelling in the Cultural Centre have a surprising characteristic - many are not jobless. Take Little Baldy as an example, he is hard-working and honest. Teahouse restaurant owners are fighting to hire him. Each morning after he gets up from the Cultural Centre, he will rush off to work, seven days a week. "Many people who have jobs like to sleep here. Maybe they feel that they don't need to pay rent. Once they get up, they can just leave for work. And the location is convenient," he said.

Little Baldy had successfully left the ranks of street sleepers. He even had his own family and was an active volunteer for SoCO using his own experience to help other street sleepers. He received an award for his volunteer work.

But the good days didn't last......


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Candle light at the back of the staircase

What is it like to live without electricity supply? A dark corner was his home. It was so dark that he could not see his fingers. Though candle light was dim, it was enough to light up the little space. Lighting up a candle was the only comfort for the old man......

He said he used to be an illegal hawker, and was arrested by hawker control team when he was 59. He then changed his career to collecting paper cardboard. Yiu slept till noon to begin his 'treasure hunt' by searching through rubbish till around 3pm. Social workers found it hard to visit him because of his 'working hours'.

Yiu Mung Kei was moved to the 'luxurious' cage house while he applied for social grants with the help of SoCO. The place is a matchbox with air-conditioning. He has a little fluorescent tube and ventilation pipes, supplying light and air to the 'house'. While his cage has space enough to allow him barely sit straight, he has a big world of his own outside it. He came to Hong Kong around the age of 20, having learnt the Chinese musical instruments er-hu and yang qin by himself. Every afternoon he joins other musicians in the concert at the Tung Chau Street Park. Over hundred of fans are audience. It is not unlike the crowdedness one could find in the Tuen Mun Park.

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Guardian of Star Ferry Pier

Recently, Drunky had got to know a painter. This painter started selling his work outside Drunky's home. The paintings were portraits of well-known individuals and sometimes Drunky himself. Even thought they cost only twenty dollars, they weren't always easy to sell. Then two years ago, four huge concrete planters were placed right outside the public toilet partially occupying Drunky and his painter friend's living space. Drunky didn't really mind, he thought the flowers were nice......

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History of Care for Street-sleepers in Hong Kong

1950s to 1960s
  • After the Second World War and the political movement in the mainland, a large number of immigrants from the mainland came to Hong Kong. Many lower-class citizens in the urban areas worked in the transport industry and as labourers at the wharfs. Some of them were employed in overnight work scraping paint from ocean liners. As they had to work for long periods in and near the Yau Ma Ti Pier, they slept on the ground nearby after work. The street sleeping population increased gradually.
1977
  • By the winter of 1976, a large number of people were sleeping on the street - between 800 and 1000. Students at the University of Hong Kong formed a planning committee to care for street sleepers. In 1977 it compiled the first research paper on a scheme to care for street sleepers. The committee interviewed over 215 street sleepers across Hong Kong and made a detailed analysis of their backgrounds.
  • The survey found that most slept on the streets became of high rents, demolition of buildings and serious illness. The survey aroused community concern and spurred the Government to review its policy in relation to the welfare of street-sleepers.
  • The research examined the street-sleeping population and their living conditions, health, occupation, level of social interaction and psychology. It also looked at causes of street-sleeping which included economic factors, lack of family support, poor social welfare services and lack of basic needs including finance, housing and employment.
1985 to 1986
  • A survey conducted by the Yau Na Ti District Board in 1985 found street sleeping was a serious issue and had caused many problems in the district. A report was compiled by a concern group on the nuisance caused to the residents by street-sleepers in the Ferry Corner area. The report recommended street-sleepers move into transit centres to be set up under flyovers. Some concern groups criticized the move as failing to address the street sleepers' real needs.
1987 to1988
  • Several district organizations carried out surveys on street sleepers in their areas. They included a survey on street sleepers in the Central and Western District (compiled by the Caine Road Caritas Social Centre), and the 1987 report on street sleepers in Sham Shui Po district (compiled by the Sham Shui Po District Board and the City Polytechnic's Faculty of Social Administration). All the surveys recommended that the Government improve services for street-sleepers and meet their housing needs by providing more resettlement units and private flats and improving existing hostels.
1988 to 1989
  • Street-sleepers under the flyovers at Ferry Street in Yau Ma Ti and Tung Chau Street in Sham Shui Po were affected by the Government's redevelopment of the area. SoCO united with 11 community organizations, including the Street-sleepers Action Committee, to form the Union on Concern for Street-sleepers in Yau Ma Ti and Sham Shui Po. The new body organized street-sleepers to petition to the Government for resettlement.
1991
  • Civic groups prepared a report on Hong Kong street-sleepers (Hong Kong Christian Association for the Care of Street Sleepers) which showed it remained a serious problem. The groups continued to ask the Government to improve services.
1999
  • After the reunification in 1997 Hong Kong entered a period of serious financial recession. SoCO found many younger people sleeping on the street near the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. In September the organization completed a survey on street sleepers throughout Hong Kong. It found high unemployment was responsible for the increase in young street sleepers. At this time, services provided to street-sleepers had not changed since the 1980s. As a result of SoCO's campaigning, the Government improved its policies by (1) establishing three late-night outreach teams, (2) removing the 40-plus age limit for staying free-of-charge in hostels and (3) providing street-sleepers receiving a social security allowance with a deposit for their own accommodation.
2001
  • The number of street sleepers in Hong Kong rose to around 1,320. For the first time, SoCO sent three Hong Kong street-sleepers to Osaka Park in Japan to discuss their situation with Japanese street sleepers. The Japanese street-sleepers regarded the camping area as their community. Some of them voluntarily maintained the area's security and sanitation and they campaigned successfully for legislation to protect their tents from being demolished by the government. Post boxes were even installed in the street-sleeping park. After returning to Hong Kong, the three street sleepers established the Hong Kong Street Sleepers' Rights Association.
2003
  • SoCO launched the enhanced employment assistance scheme to help street-sleepers and ex-prisoners to find jobs. SoCO also set up employment funds and began offering free computer courses. Second-hand telephones and used electrical devices were collected to give to street sleepers when they moved into public housing.
2005
  • SoCO launched the local Homeless World Cup scheme to improve the street-sleepers' life through football. For the first time, a local homeless football team was sent to represent Hong Kong in the Homeless World Cup held in Edinburgh in 2005.
  • SoCO completed a survey on ex-prisoners. It found that 40% had slept rough in the month after leaving prison because it took one month to apply for the social security allowance after release. SoCO, in conjunction with the ex prisoners, campaigned for the rent allowance to be paid immediately after release.
  • The rent for single person hostels and cubicles rose to between $1,000 and $1,200 per month. The Home Affairs Department abolished hostels which charged a monthly rent of $430. That deprived street-sleepers (most who had a monthly income of between $3,000 and $4,000) of the opportunity for low cost housing.
  • With SoCO's assistance, the University of Hong Kong's School of Dentistry conducted a research on street-sleepers' health. It found serious problems with their dental health, which affected the social life and employment opportunities of 80% of the street-sleepers.
2006
  • " SoCO organized the first Hong Kong Homeless World Cup - Charity Cup to Kick Away Poverty. The event was supported by 33 organisations including the commercial sector, first division football teams, the media, sports goods manufacturers, public organizations and fringe community groups. The Hong Kong team took part in the Homeless Word Cup in Cape Town, South Africa.
  • SoCO carried out a study on the needs of Hong Kong people returning after working on the mainland. It found that many people who moved to the mainland for employment started sleeping on the street after they came back to Hong Kong. This was also caused by a new government policy introduced in 2004, under which a person absent from Hong Kong for more than two months in the preceding year could not apply for the Comprehensive Social Security Allowance.

2007
  • SoCO established the Dawn Light Construction Company, with funds provided by the Social Affairs Department, to help unemployed street-sleepers and ex prisoners find jobs decorating and cleaning.
  • In 1999 the Government abolished dental services for street-sleepers receiving the Comprehensive Social Security Allowance. SoCO organized street sleepers to campaign for a dental allowance to cover fillings, dentures and tooth cleaning.
  • For the third time, SoCO sent a team to take part in the Homeless World Cup in Copenhagen, Denmark.

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Information on homeless people (Chrish 2007) (as provided by the Social Welfare Department)

No. of homeless people registered by Social Welfare Department
  • 1,203 newly registered cases (between 1 - 30 April 2001)*
  • 363 newly registered cases (between 1 - 28 February 2007)

Number of free hostel places for homeless people
  • (Missionaries of Charity: 70
    Street Sleepers' Shelter Society Trustees Incorporated: 210
    St Barnabas' Society and Home: 16)
    Total: 296

Distribution of the homeless by district (%)
  • YauTsimMong (19.9%), Sham Shui Po (16.7%), Central and Western (13.7%), Tsuen Wan (9.9%), Island East (6.4%), Wong Tai Sin (6.1%), Kwun Tong (5.3%), Kowloon City (5.3%), Tai Po (5%), Others (11.7%)
Welfare status
  • Welfare recipients (36.8%)
    Non-welfare recipients who live on low-income jobs and as ragpicker (63.2%)
Sex
  • Male (95.6%) Female (4.4%)

Age
  • Over the age of 49 (31.7%)
  • Less than the age of 50 (68.3%)

Education
  • No schooling (15.6%)
  • Primary (50.3%)
  • Secondary or above (34.1%)

Health condition
  • Normal health (48.8%)
  • Suspected drug-abuse (21%)
  • People with suspected mentally ill (11%)
  • Suspected alcoholic (3.5%)
  • Ill health (6%)
  • Other health problem (3.5%)
  • Unknown (6.2%)

Major reason of
Being street sleepers
  • Personal Choice (29%)
  • Had no income to pay rent in previous accommodation (14%)
  • Could not find accommodation with affordable rent (12.3%)
  • Relationship problem with family members/tenants (9.1%)
  • Homeless after discharge from prison / hospital / DATC (7%)
  • Not willing to live with people (2.6%)
  • Others reasons (8.2%)
  • Unknown (17.8%)

* It is speculated that the number of the homeless people provided by Social Welfare Department was underestimated due to the following reasons:

1. Social Welfare Department did not report the total number of homeless people by year and did not include the newly registered case into the year figure.
2. The case of homeless people who was identified as sleeping on street and his problems were settled would not be counted as a case by Social Welfare Department.
3. Some people who hide themselves in hidden places such as the stairs of old-private building, lorries, etc. will not admit themselves as homeless people.
4. The people who slept at the hostel for the homeless people were not counted.


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Football Team Dawn

It was April 2004, when everyone was desperate about finding jobs, finding money to cover the mortgage, and realizing their property had lost half of their value. It was this time of desperation even for ordinary public that I read the news of Homeless World Cup a rare hope for the homeless.

Homeless people usually do not have hope for future. What worries us is that we found more young people among the homeless. If look from outside, people will have the impression that they are either drug addicts, gamblers, or alcoholics. When we get along with them longer, they actually suffer more from their lack of confidence and poor self-image. That is more a result of them being neglected and not given a chance.

So we want to bring hope to them so that they build up their confidence again. We decided to form a soccer team with the hope of going to Scotland and play the world cup. That was a day dream at that time. We were given HK $7800 (approximately 1,000USD) to start and with that we can't even afford a proper jersey and boot. And we thought we had to deal with discipline matter a lot. Eventually it turned out that they behave rather well on the field. and some even start to quit smoking. We were lucky to witness the first "verbal fight" only in May, four months after we first formed.

And they never give up. Losing a game is somewhat "expected" now but that does not prevent them from practicing. Some even train on their own time and their attitude towards training is really "professional". They are planning to quit smoking, shape up their belly so as to be stronger and run faster. They start to demand on themselves for improvement and we believe that is the start of a real change.

Everyone grows with the football team. One of them, aged 22 and hanging on the internet over 14 consecutive days, got his part-time job after joining the team. Another guy, who had played in Class A Football league and indulged in gambling, joined the Football Team Dawn and bravely shared his past history in front of the media at the tournament of Homeless World Cup. In addition, a 53-year old man, who had slept at the vehicle and complaining for the non-payment of his employer, actively participates to the volunteer service in SoCO for another street-sleepers. Another team player with 40-inch waist expressed that he saves his money to do volunteer work of the Homeless World Cup held in Denmark in 2007 and helped the others to find jobs.

This is no longer a dream.

Kick off Poverty - Homeless World Cup 2007

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Society for Community Organization

Address¡G3/F, 52 Princess Margaret Road, Homantin, Kowloon.

Tel.:2713 9165 /2307 9165

ºô§}: www.soco.org.hk ¹q¶l:soco@pacific.net.hk

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