At home with the homeless

By Lorie Ann Cascaro

Hong Kong — Chan Kwok-cheong has two beds: one for chilly nights and the other for warm weather.

His big roof is the wide bridge that stretches along Tung Chau Street in Sham Shui Po.

On a Wednesday morning, the 58-year-old man woke up inside a box of plywood strips fully covered with printed tarpaulin.

His head could almost touch the ceiling, as he sat on an old single-sized mattress.

He went outside head first, almost kneeling, and took a couple of steps to reach his second bed at the Temporary Market’s wall.

Sitting on the bed, he placed his cellphone on a wooden table with old newspapers.

An agency, whose name he chose not to disclose, calls him if he gets a job, but it does not happen everyday, he said.

He earns HK$450 by cleaning malls or parks for eight to nine hours a day. Depending on his body condition and mood, he can earn an average of HK$3,500 a month.

Unlike his neighbors, Chinese immigrants and Vietnamese refugees, Chan is entitled of government medical services.

He will also have his own housing unit in the next three years, he said, as he applied for public rental housing in 2012.

The Housing Authority says the average waiting time for general applicants is over three years, while for elderly one-person is nearly two years.

Chan may get a house by 2017, but the waiting list might tell another thing.

There were about 130,200 general applicants for public rental housing as of September, HA says.

To build a 40-storey housing public block takes five years on “spade ready” sites and seven years for a typical public housing development, the authority says. In its report, there were 14,057 housing units produced for 2013-2014.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying earlier pledged to reach the targetted 470,000 units, 60 percent of which for public housing, in the next 10 years.

Chan took a slice of bread with his nicotine-stained fingers and spoke in between biting and chewing without teeth.

“I don’t have problems here, except mosquitoes,” he said, adding that the things he needed most are mosquito coils.

He picked up rubbishes around his area and threw them to nearby trash bins.

His laundryroom, toilet and bathroom are all-in-one at Tung Chau Street Park, right beside the market.

Unthreatened by the government’s order to evacuate, Chan said, “When I’d get the house, I might be dead already.”

Tung Chau Street Hong Kong by Lorie Ann Cascaro
Chinese immigrants, Vietnamese refugees and homeless Hong Kong citizens find shelter under the bridge along Tung Chau Street in Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong. PHOTO BY Lorie Ann Cascaro

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