A lawmaker has asked a government department to show some empathy for homeless people seeking respite from the cold after pictures of workers washing pedestrian tunnels angered netizens.

At a Legislative Council Panel on Welfare Services meeting on Monday, Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions lawmaker Tang Ka-piu said that the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) should refrain from washing floors in districts with a high concentration of homeless people during spells of cold weather.

“I don’t understand, everyone knows it’s cold, and yet [the government] is still cleaning places where homeless people are commonly found… under such special circumstances, shouldn’t we be more understanding and not wet their blankets?” Tang said.

FEHD staff washing the tunnels next to the homeless.

Reports of FEHD employees washing floors in tunnels next to homeless people surfaced over the weekend, sparking outrage online.

“They’ve done the same in parks before, washing the floors at night… the government is not solving problems, it’s getting rid of people with problems,” one netizen said. “It’ll be better if they washed it in the daytime, washing it at night makes it seem like there’s a political objective behind this,” said another.

Labour Party’s Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung was also concerned about whether elderly care homes have sufficient thermal facilities and requested those patrolling the facilities pay extra attention to the matter, Commercial Radio reported.

Fernando Cheung. File photo: HKFP.

Secretary for Labour and Welfare Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said that he will contact the relevant department after the LegCo meeting and that he agreed that they should be considerate to the homeless, RTHK reported. He also said that the Social Welfare Department has made comprehensive preparations to deal with the weather conditions. Cold shelters will be open for 24 hours while local charities will be providing supplies to the needy.

The Chief Executive visited the Nam Cheong District Community Centre. Photo: Facebook, via CY Leung.

On Saturday, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying posted a picture of a community centre he was visiting in Nam Cheong, Sham Shui Po. Leung said that he chatted with homeless people who were waiting to be allocated public housing estates. He added that those who are opposed to the government changing zoning rules to build public housing should come and listen to the homeless.

‘Crocodile tears’

Leung was criticised by Scholarism convenor Joshua Wong who said he was being hypocritical and shedding crocodile tears, pretending to be take pity on the homeless while spraying tunnels with cold water. The student activist accused Leung of using the homeless as a tool to attack the enemy. Wong also pointed out that in order to apply for public housing, one must have proof of address: “Did Leung Chun-ying ask how the homeless people would have proof of address?”

Volunteers handing out hot soup.

Meanwhile, a group of around a dozen students visited cold shelters on Sunday night, handing out homemade congee to the homeless and distributing items donated by others, such as clothing, shoes, socks and hats, Ming Pao reported. The Street Sleepers Action Committee also went to various cold shelters and gave out hot soup.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.