A group of street sleepers who successfully sued the Hong Kong government for damages after riot police and cleaners threw their personal belongings away in 2019 has demanded an apology. An NGO representing the group described the HK$100 compensation ordered by a tribunal last week as “trampling” their dignity.

SoCO LCSD Homeless petition
Claimant Chow Hung-kwong (right) and Ng Wai-tung of the Society for Community Organization outside the Leisure and Cultural Services Department headquarters in Sha Tin on April 4, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Staff from the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) and two claimants who sued the government filed a petition letter to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) at its headquarters in Sha Tin on Monday.

It came almost a week after the Small Claims Tribunal ruled in favour of nine street sleepers, who complained that their possessions were tossed away as rubbish during a government operation in Tung Chau Street Park on December 21, 2019.

The adjudicator ruled that the LCSD had failed to exercise reasonable care, but said the claimants had not provided sufficient proof to assert ownership of the items. The government was asked to repay each claimant HK$100 as a nominal compensation for the bedding items lost, far less than the original amounts of damages requested which ranged from HK$2,000 to HK$13,290.

Chow Hung-kwong Homeless
Claimant Chow Hung-kwong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The petition letter written by SoCO and addressed to the LCSD Director Vincent Liu called on the department to set up a meeting with the NGO and apologise to the street sleepers affected. It was estimated that the park in Sham Shui Po was home to around 70 homeless individuals when the clearance operation took place.

The street sleepers were “extremely disappointed” at the compensation amount, said community organiser Ng Wai-tung of SoCO. The claimants had no plans to file an appeal, however, as they were reluctant to undergo the lengthy legal proceedings again, he said.

“The nominal compensation of HK$100 trampled the dignity of the homeless people. They think the government owes them an apology,” Ng said.

Chow Hung-kwong homeless petition
Claimant Chow Hung-kwong holds a placard during a petition outside the Leisure and Cultural Services Department headquarters on April 4, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

SoCO originally helped 14 people lodge their claims against the government. But as the hearing dragged on for almost two years, two claimants passed away and four lost touch with the organisation.

Claimant Chow Hung Kwong told the press on Monday the HK$100 could not help him and other street sleepers: “Sometimes you would give HK$100 to a beggar.”

Another claimant Lau Ka-hei, who managed to find a roof over his head last July, said homeless individuals were also citizens of Hong Kong, adding all they wanted was to remain undisturbed when they slept on the street at night.

Homeless petition Lau Ka-hei LCSD
Claimant Lau Ka-hei (right) hands a petition letter to a representative of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department on April 4, 2022. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“If there is no apology and no prior notice before clearance, then we need to think about one question – did the government treat us as human beings?” Lau said.

Ng urged the government to devise “homeless-friendly” policies and assign a department to monitor violations of those policies. He also suggested the government to take reference from Taiwan and Japan to provide storage spaces for the homeless to avoid their belongings getting discarded or lost.

In response to HKFP’s enquiries, the LCSD said it would not appeal against the tribunal’s decision. It would consider this judgement when planning arrangements for similar operations, it said.

The department did not respond to whether it would apologise to the claimants.

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Ho Long Sze Kelly is a Hong Kong-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, human rights, social welfare and education. As a Senior Reporter at Hong Kong Free Press, she has covered the aftermath of the 2019 extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic extensively, as well as documented the transformation of her home city under the Beijing-imposed national security law.

Kelly has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration. Prior to joining HKFP in 2020, she was on the frontlines covering the 2019 citywide unrest for South China Morning Post’s Young Post. She also covered sports and youth-related issues.