Homeless II - Photo Exhibition of Street-sleepers
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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
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.
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."
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- " 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.
- 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)
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 recipients (36.8%)
Non-welfare recipients who live on low-income jobs and as ragpicker (63.2%)
- Male (95.6%) Female (4.4%)
- Over the age of 49 (31.7%)
- Less than the age of 50 (68.3%)
- No schooling (15.6%)
- Primary (50.3%)
- Secondary or above (34.1%)
- 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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