Help for homeless people

Topics: Homelessness, Hong Kong, Poverty Pages: 3 (881 words) Published: October 2, 2014
Few would choose to live on the streets if there was a better place to go.

But it took a court case last year, in which 19 street sleepers sued the government for confiscating and disposing of their personal belongings without notice, to turn the media and the public's attention to the plight of Hong Kong's most destitute.

Social workers estimate there are more than 1,000 Hongkongers who have been reduced to sleeping in cardboard boxes on pavements, receiving occasional lunch boxes handed out by non-profit organisations while society largely turns a blind eye to their fate.

The court case dragged on for 10 months, during which time two street sleepers died without getting justice. In November, the surviving 17 claimants were finally awarded HK$2,000 each.

The proceedings allowed observers to put names, faces and stories to this previously "invisible" group of homeless people. It was the first time that street sleepers were willing to publicly declare their identity.

The Chan brothers are among those who sued the government. Both saw their lives go downhill at an early age.

Chan Kwok-kei, 58, was the eldest of six children. He blames himself for being on the streets.

"I was a bad child," he said. "I'd often skip school, go out and have fun, and I got in with the wrong crowd. Then I started dabbling in triad business and smoking heroin when I was about 19."

Growing up in a wooden shack in one of Hong Kong's now extinct squatter areas was tough, said Chan.

"It was a rough area, and our family was very poor," he said.

Because of his drug habit, Chan found himself in and out of jail in his youth.

"It got so bad that I couldn't face my mother," he said, on why he couldn't return to live with his family. He would visit them once in a while on the Choi Hung Estate, but for the most part a deep feeling of shame kept him away.

He was ordered to attend drug rehabilitation centres five times, then volunteered for treatment another five...
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