Nine homeless people sleeping at the Kwun Tong Public Pier are facing eviction by Friday as temperatures plunge across the city.
The Lands Department posted orders at the pier last month. They cited the Lands Ordinance in demanding a halt to the unlawful occupation of unleased land by Friday. The order prompted concerns from street sleepers that they will have nowhere to go as a cold snap sets in.
Representatives and supporters from NGO the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) met with government officials from the Transport Department, Lands Department, and Home Affairs Department on Monday. They also submitted a petition letter, which was received by Senior Transport Officer Liu Kin-wai. Liu said the department’s concern was “maintaining the normal operation of the pier.”
SoCO said government officials made no promises in response to their request to extend the deadline during the meeting, and the homeless people will most likely have to take down their shelters and move their belongings this week.
Those in violation of the law are liable to a fine of HK$500,000 and to imprisonment for 6 months. They also risk further fines of HK$50,000 for each day that they continue to occupy the land.
SoCO Community Organiser Ng Wai-tung told HKFP: “Some of the people here said they would try the nearby parks but half of them need to go to work, so I’m worried that – during the day – even if all the boards [from their structures] get thrown away, they still have their bedding and their clothing… where will they store their possessions?”
Ng Tit-hing, a former tower crane operator living at the pier who attended the meeting, told HKFP that he expects to move into accommodation provided by his new employer next week, but he was worried about the other street sleepers at the pier.
He said they could not go to the nearest government cold-weather shelter in Lam Tin as it was too far to walk and was located on a hill.
“It’s on the mountain – we’re all elderly people, and what would we do with our things?”
64-year-old Ng, who has been sleeping for the past year-and-a-half in a makeshift shelter erected from tarp, said that there was a clearance at the pier in October last year, but this time there was no negotiation or communication from the government aside from the posted notice.
“Do they really see us as garbage and want to use garbage trucks to take us to the landfill?”
The petition letter asked the Home Affairs Department to re-examine the location of its temporary cold shelters, calling on it to locate one at Kwun Tong’s Tsui Ping Estate, instead of at the Lam Tin Estate Community Centre. It also called on the department to extend the time limit for stays in government hostels from six months to three years.
SoCo’s Ng Wai-tung said that, during the meeting, the government cited increasing complaints from passersby at the adjacent Kwun Tong waterfront park who said the homeless people’s structures appeared to be increasing. Ng cited officials as saying the decision was made based on reasons of public order, sanitation, and safety, but added that they offered no statistics or other quantifiable evidence.
Ng also called on the government to adopt “homeless-friendly policies,” criticising it for recent clearances including one at the Tong Shui Road flyover in North Point at the end of November.
The government departments have not responded to HKFP’s requests for comment.