Somewhere in Happy Valley, one of the city’s more affluent districts, live dozens of homeless people who have managed to make their own “luxurious” living space in a subway.
Filipino Onade is a newcomer among 10 people living in the pedestrian tunnel near the Hong Kong Jockey Club on Sports Road, which has been “home” to street sleepers for more than three years.
Onade, who joined the “subway village” a month ago, has been homeless for over a year. He used to live in a small flat but was kicked out as he could not afford the rent. He said he is currently unemployed and has no income.
The homeless community in the Jockey Club pedestrian tunnel seems to be growing in scale. Not only have they brought along with them their tents and personal belongings, they have also set up closets, fridges and even sofas to make themselves at home.
They have even decorated their living space with colorful fabrics, which also protects their privacy.
These scenes are a familiar sight throughout the city, especially on footbridges, as the number of homeless people in Hong Kong has been on the rise.
Some have been forced onto the streets as 24-hour McDonald’s can no longer house the homeless overnight due to dine-in bans, while some who work in Hong Kong but live in Shenzhen for the cheaper rents cannot return home because the border has been closed since last February.
The founder of the non-profit ImpactHK, Jeff Rotmeyer, said the large increase in homeless people over the past two years is a result of unemployment amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The Social Welfare Department recorded 1,556 street sleepers at the end of July, compared to 1,482 in the same month last year.
“We are providing help to homeless people in 11 different districts and we have observed a 20 percent increase in the number of homeless people. We also see that more young people are becoming homeless,” said Rotmeyer.
“Almost all our cases have mental health issues such as dementia and depression.”
He added that mental health issues are the biggest reason for homelessness, and that homeless people face immense difficulties and challenges fitting into the community.
“Many of them feel hopeless because they feel no one cares for them and there is no one they can trust. They also face an unfriendly society which sometimes view homeless people as being lazy and drug addicts,” he said.
Rotmeyer believes it is very difficult to end homelessness in Hong Kong due to high housing costs.
Although he agreed with some of the government’s policies, such as providing funding for transitional housing, Rotmeyer believes authorities can do more to show they care about the needy.
“The government needs to understand that providing housing alone does not solve homelessness. It should provide more financial support to non-government organizations and engage in direct communication with them,” he said.
The Social Welfare Department said it has enhanced the existing welfare support services through registered nurses, who provide on-site health and mental assessments as well as medical support services to street sleepers.
The department also said it provides subvention to non-government organizations for welfare support, such as counseling and employment guidance, as well as to urban hostels and emergency shelters.
It says there are currently a total of 642 places of temporary accommodation for homeless people, adding that the department also provides an emergency fund to cater for their ad hoc needs.