A group of homeless people in Hong Kong have appeared before a tribunal to seek compensation from the government, after their belongings were tossed away when riot police and street cleaners cleared the park where they slept in December 2019.

Representatives from the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) accompanied seven street sleepers to the Small Claims Tribunal on Tuesday, when they asked adjudicator Arthur Lam to consider their request for claims ranging from HK$2,000 to HK$13,290.

Representatives from Society for Community Organization accompany seven street sleepers to the Small Claims Tribunal on November 9, 2021. Photo: Society for Community Organization.

Their demands stemmed from a government operation on December 21, 2019, when police officers and staff from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) drove street sleepers away from Tung Chau Street Park in a bid to “tackle crime.”

Their possessions were thrown away without prior notice, SoCO said, including a wheelchair, mattresses, pillows, clothes and shoes. The organisation originally helped 14 street sleepers lodge their claims, but one of them, Ma Yuet-wing, died last month while waiting for the case to be heard. Six others either lost touch with the NGO or are in custody or hospitalised.

Before the hearing, SoCO’s community organisers Ng Wai-tung and Chan Chung-yin and the street sleepers displayed a banner reading “Homeless people’s third time to sue the government, waited painfully for two years until [he] died.”

Claimant Chau Hung-kwong held a photo of Ma, who was also his cousin, as the group paid tribute to the deceased street sleeper. Chau had told HKFP in November last year that he missed the five-minute window to collect his belongings during the eviction because he was taking care of Ma, who was confined to a wheelchair. He said street cleaners had thrown his property onto a garbage truck and ruined it.

Ma Yuet-wing (left) and Chau Hung-kwong (right) photographed in the Tung Chau Street Park in November 2020. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Chan from SoCO told HKFP on Tuesday that seven claimants who attended the hearing had given statements in court. A police inspector also testified. The hearing is expected to end on Wednesday, after a manager from the LCSD gives evidence, he said.

The community organiser said the adjudicator told the claimants that they could examine the witnesses themselves, but only two chose to do so because the others did not know how to formulate their questions.

“A lot of them are not familiar with the legal language or concepts, so they left it to us, the social workers. But it is not easy for us too…” he said, adding the homeless people who had no smartphones were exempted from the new compulsory use of the official Covid-19 contract tracing app at the courthouse.

Claimants Yuen Siu-bik (right) and Ng Tsui-yau (left) photographed in November 2020. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Asked how SoCO and the street sleepers felt about their chances of winning the case, Chan said it was “fifty-fifty.”

“It depends on how the adjudicator see this incident, whether it is legal or not. But we haven’t been able to judge his stance.”

The case heard on Tuesday marked the third time for homeless people in Hong Kong to sue the government for damages with the assistance of SoCO, with the previous cases being settled outside the tribunal. Their previous bid to seek compensation was depicted by local director Jun Li in his film Drifting, which was released in February this year.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.