I am a refugee mother relying on welfare assistance because I am not allowed to work. In 2013 I had a very big problem finding a home so ISS lodged my family in a guesthouse. Safety was a priority as we had been threatened. It was difficult as we could not cook, wash clothes and did not receive any fresh foods. It was very hard for my daughter to eat canned food and noodles every meal.
We looked for a place to stay but ISS only gave us budget of 4500$. On 30 April 2014 we moved out of the guesthouse to an apartment in Hung Hom. It was a studio room with a small kitchen and bathroom. The big problem was the bathroom flooded when there was heavy rain. There were always cockroaches and a terrible smell coming out of the drain.
We wanted to move, but my case worker told us to wait a year to get the deposit back because they would not pay it again. We had to stay in that smelly room until April this year. Two months ago I reminded my case worker about my situation and she confirmed we could find a new place. The only decent rooms we could find were ‘over budget’, according to our case worker.
I had further difficulties because my daughter was accepted at a school in Wanchai, so living in Kowloon was too far away as I didn’t have bus money. My case worker was busy and said she had problems finding homes for many clients. She suggested we stay in the old smelly place for another year! That was unacceptable for us. I threatened to call the media and to protest with the Refugee Union, if she did not help me. I reminded her that in a year she hadn’t visited my room once, despite many promises.
The next day she visited my room with another officer. She noticed that there was no window, that my daughter played on the bed and the bathroom was stinky. She agreed, “You have to move out of this room. It is too small and it is very hot. I approve that you can find a new place”. We went to an agency that took us to see several flats for 5500$ in terrible condition. Later the agent showed me a flat for 6500$ which was OK. But ISS said it was over budget.
As my case worker wanted me to rent a damaged flat for 5500$ and didn’t want to increase the budget, I went to the Social Welfare Department Head-office to complain about the unfair treatment. The next day my case worker called, “OK we will get that 6500$ home for you!” By then the landlord had already rented it, but I was fortunate to find another clean room.
After I protested at SWD, my case worker immediately increased the rent budget and agreed to pay 2 months security deposit (it is usually 1 month), 1 month rent, agency fee and a truck to transfer our belongings. I learned that refugees have to struggle with the system to get better assistance, otherwise case workers will just give the minimum and not care about high rental prices. If I did not protest at the SWD and threaten to return with my Refugee Union comrades, my family would have been stuck in the stinky room, or perhaps homeless.