For street sleepers in Hong Kong, places that once offered shelter and perhaps a little privacy have become increasingly inhospitable.
In July, five homeless people petitioned outside the government headquarters, lobbying against recently implemented blockades of a number of popular sleeping sites in the city. They were joined by five lawmakers ahead of a meeting to discuss policies on homelessness in the legislature.
Speaking during that meeting, Warner Cheuk, deputy chief secretary for administration, said: “While the homeless might view these items as their belongings, ordinary people consider them to be litter.”
According to government statistics, there were 595 street sleepers in 2013 according to the Social Welfare Department. By 2022, the number had risen to 1,582.
The number of places in shelters, however, has not kept pace with the rising population of street sleepers. In 2013, there were 202 places in homeless shelters provided by NGOs funded by the government, while in 2023, there were 228, an increase of 12.8 per cent.
In recent months, locations commonly used by Hong Kong’s street sleepers, such as footbridges and underpasses have been blockaded by authorities. Some fences are accompanied by notices indicating that the government will remove all items in the area without prior notification, deviating from the previous practice of allowing a 24-hour notice period for owners to reclaim their belongings.
Ng Wai-tung, community organiser at NGO the Society for Community Organisation, told HKFP in July: “This is not a new thing for the government to build barricades or fences to banish homeless people, in fact most of the homeless just need a hidden place to avoid pedestrians.”
Over the years, the government has resorted to various forms of hostile architecture, ranging from plastic fences and concrete spikes to plant installations and peculiar animal structures, in an attempt to discourage and displace the city’s homeless population.
As a result, some of the homeless individuals have relocated to darker and more secluded areas, while others have simply moved their belongings next to the fences or obstacles, continuing to struggle with poverty, illness, and loneliness.
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