Street sleepers who made a home out of a Hong Kong pier have been evicted to make way for an “enhancement project,” an NGO has said.
Personnel from government departments including the Home Affairs Department (HAD), Transport Department, Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and the Social Welfare Department, as well as outsourced government cleaners and police, arrived at the Kwun Tong Public Pier on Friday morning.
Cleaners cleared away street sleepers’ furniture, including mattresses, chairs and sofas, which was loaded into skips outside the pier.
Some street sleepers packed their belongings and towed them away in suitcases.
Ng Wai-tung, a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO), said around 20 street sleepers were evicted. Social workers had arranged temporary housing for some, while others said they would stay with friends. Ng said he expected some would continue to stay on the streets.
For years, Kwun Tong Ferry Pier has been home to dozens of makeshift wooden structures, where street sleepers priced out of Hong Kong’s exorbitant housing market lived. According to minutes from a 2021 Kwun Tong District Council meeting, street sleepers were spotted setting up structures with canvas and cardboard in early 2017.
Over the years, members of the public have complained about the impact of the street sleepers on the hygiene of the pier. Makeshift structures in the pier also forced ferry commuters to queue outside, some said.
The Kwun Tong Public Pier has been defunct since the berth for the Kwun Tong to Sai Wan Ho route relocated east last month.
It is not the first time the government has organised cross-departmental clearings of the area in response to complaints. Between 2018 and October 2020, a total of 12 clearance operations were conducted, according to the the meeting minutes.
Most recently, authorities carried out an operation in May.
But compared to past operations when street sleepers would be able to return to their spot after the clearance, Ng said he was told by the HAD’s Kwun Tong District Office that the pier would be fenced off to make way for an “enhancement project.”
The area would only reopen in December, Ng said citing the department.
In response to HKFP, the HAD said that there were occassional incidents of violent and drug-related crime among street sleepers who gathered there.
“The issue at Kwun Tong Public Pier is much more than typical hygiene problems. It has become a breeding ground for criminal activities, impacting… citizens’ safety. The government must take decisive action,” the HAD wrote.
The department said that following the clearance, the Civil Engineering and Development Department fenced off the pier. The Kwun Tong District Office under the department would oversee a project to “enhance government facilities,” the HAD added.
As of the end of March, there were 1,441 street sleepers in Hong Kong. The government provides 626 spots for “emergency and short-term accommodation” for street sleepers, including 228 offered by the Social Welfare Department and 398 by NGOs on a self-financing basis.
Ng added that this year, the government had used the need for “enhancement projects” to clear street sleepers from five spots, including outside the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui and a tunnel in Cherry Street in Tai Kok Tsui.
“There are not a lot of places where the homeless can go in Hong Kong where it is covered, and where they don’t have to be too concerned about the public complaining,” Ng said, adding that he called on the government to increase the number of shelter spaces and formulate policies to support the homeless community.
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