A group of homeless people urged the government to provide medium-term accommodation and adopt homeless-friendly policies on Thursday.

The group of 10 street sleepers led by anti-poverty NGO, the Society for Community Organization (SoCO), met government representatives at the Sham Shui Po District Office after plans were announced to evict homeless people living on the Yen Chow Street footbridge. In a notice dated June 8, the District Office asked occupants of the footbridge to remove all their belongings by July 12 since they were “blocking the walkway and causing a nuisance to nearby residents.”

Ng Wai-tung SoCO
SoCO Community Organiser Ng Wai-tung (left). Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

SoCO arranged the meeting for affected individuals to reflect their concerns and to ask for a postponement.

“The eviction is meaningless and unhelpful because it cannot solve the problem. A month after the eviction [the homeless individuals] will go back to the same place,” said Ng Wai-tung, a community organiser at SoCO.

“Even if they rented subdivided flats, the spaces are hot, humid and cramped, with very poor living conditions in the summer. So they have no choice but to go back on the streets,” he added.

Ng Wai-tung SoCO Kelly Man Ka-wing Home Affairs Department
Assistant District Officer Kelly Man Ka-wing receives a letter from SoCO. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Ng said that the number of registered homeless people had risen from 746 in 2013-14 to 1,127 in 2017-18. However, over the same five-year period, accommodation spaces subsidised by the government have only increased from 202 to 222.

Ng said that SoCO’s priority at the meeting was to ask for homeless-friendly policies, medium-term accommodation where tenants can stay for up to three years, more medical outreach, and more research into the issue of homelessness. Under current policies, tenants can only stay in temporary accommodation for up to six months.

Yen Chow Street footbridge
Yen Chow Street footbridge. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

On Thursday morning, the group met with officials from the Home Affairs Department and the Lands Department for about an hour.

After the meeting, Ng said that the officials would not postpone the eviction, but promised to relay SoCO’s requests to the relevant government departments. The officials will also meet SoCO and the Salvation Army one week before the eviction to discuss further arrangements.

Yen Chow Street footbridge homeless belongings living quarters
Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“The officials who attended were of relatively junior rank, and may not have the authority to answer our questions or make decisions on policy,” Ng said after the meeting.

A 63-year-old man surnamed Yuen who attended the meeting said he had hoped the government would delay the eviction so he could wait for public housing. He had been sleeping at the footbridge for a year-and-a-half and subsisted on social welfare.

Yen Chow Street footbridge homeless belongings living quarters
Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“I’m not sure what I will do when they clear the site,” Yuen said. “I will probably move to the park nearby.”

Yen Chow Street footbridge

Built in 1990, the Yen Chow Street footbridge in Sham Shui Po has long been associated with homeless people. In 2015 a fire broke out at 3am which engulfed one side of the footbridge. In April this year, two homeless people were found dead at the site.

In a statement issued after the meeting on Thursday, the Home Affairs Department said it had received complaints from numerous citizens concerning the footbridge.

Yen Chow Street footbridge homeless belongings living quarters
Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“A number of homeless people take drugs and soil the premises, which creates problems with environmental hygiene and security,” the Department said.

The Department also reiterated its promise to enlist the help of NGOs: “The Department assured the attendees of the meeting that, before the [eviction], SoCO, the Salvation Army and the Social Welfare Department will actively follow up on the welfare needs of homeless individuals.”

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.