Six months homeless in Hong Kong

Post Date: Aug 14th, 2011 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

August 2011 marks a milestone for Vision First. Considering the hardship refugees face in Hong Kong, struggling for housing is the *number one* difficulty, one which sadly is worsening due to a host of factors. Finding an affordable home is the greatest challenge for any renting family, so it’s easy to imagine the hurdles faced by destitute refugees, without jobs and deposit money. With the government clamping down on illegal structures, roof-top dwellings and unauthorized farmland huts, a difficult situation is becoming a terrible one. Homelessness will spread rapidly among those least able to cope.

When planning our Refugee Shelter, we envisioned a safe haven for new arrivals, for asylum-seekers who’d run out of cash for guesthouses and didn’t have friends do welcome. New arrivals were the target users, but instead we uncovered homelessness among long-time refugees. There’s one who arrived in 2005 and suddenly found himself evicted into the street by a hysterical landlord demanding a sudden 50% rent increase. There’s a member who’s Tokwawan home burnt down. The fire didn’t start in his room, but in the meter box and it was a miracle nobody died. Made homeless overnight, all he owned was reduced to ashes, but for the clothes he was wearing. Misfortune often targets those least prepared to bear another blow. This morning we heard about a Pakistani family of five who is being evicted from their rooftop hut in Mataukok and are desperate for assistance. Sadly our shelter is for men only so another solution is needed. As we ponder these precarious circumstances, please read this email a member sent last week, sharing the miserable experience he had being SIX MONTH HOMELESS in Hong Kong:


I think what Vision First is doing with the shelter is fantastic – congratulations! If only there was such a safe place when I arrived in Hong Kong and had to live in the streets and on the beach for six months. I arrived in June 2007 and rented a guestroom in Chung King Mansion with the little money I had left. I only had enough for three days, so I went to the UNHCR and told them my story. They asked me where I slept and I said at the Star Ferry. I asked for assistance and they replied, “Go back to Star Ferry!” I was shocked, I couldn’t believed what they said to me. I asked the registration officer to introduce me to some Congolese people and they said they didn’t know any. But in fact there are many registered there!

Sleeping outside I got sick and was taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital for six nights. Although in pain I was relieved I didn’t have to struggle for a bed. When I was discharged, a kind social worker sent me to a  homeless shelter in Samshuipo where I stayed for one week; no need to pay there. They gave me food, I showered and felt safe for the first time. Later I informed UNHCR where I was sleeping and they told me to go back to Star Ferry as I didn’t have ID. They even called the shelter to say I couldn’t stay there any more. The UNHCR had me thrown back into the streets! From that day I spent FOUR MONTHS sleeping under the arches of the Cultural Centre and met many other refugees suffering the same fate. The most distressing part was finding food to eat and especially at night we were hungry as ISS doesn’t support those without homes. This was worse than in Congo: for four months I didn’t eat dinner and had to beg to eat.

Eventually I heard about Crossroads where I could volunteer and eat and this took me away from TST where there are a lot of police and immigration checks. Because my visa had expired I was afraid of staying in Kowloon. I was too afraid of being tortured by the police if I surrendered. That’s when I discovered the Gold Coast Beach. I left my suitcase at a shop in Chung King and only carried a small bag with the stuff I needed on the beach. I slept under a walkway for TWO MONTHS hiding from everyone. In the morning I went to Crossroads and nobody knew I had slept outside. I was so ashamed I didn’t even tell friends at the Jesus is Lord Church because I didn’t want to scare people. Actually, one day the pastor noticed I was suffering. We talked, I told him and he advised me to write a letter to the church explaining my suffering. After I wrote, nothing happened. That was what I feared: to ask for help and then get nothing, which was even more embarrassing than asking. I was very disappointed and after waiting for an answer for ten months, I stopped going there – this is something I’ve never told anyone and I’m glad to share it with you. I was in desperate need and they just ignored me!

Nights on the beach were tough. It was winter, November and December so it became dark early and it was cold. After 5pm I went to the beach. I waited till 6pm when everyone went home. I ate bread I saved from lunch. My shelter was under a walkway reaching from the road to the sand. I covered myself as best I could with material I found around there, stuff I hid under stones at dawn. When I lay down I could see the beach. Even the sea can surprise you, at night the waved could suddenly rise in a storm all the way up to my sleeping space. I was protected from the rain, but exposed to the wind. Often I couldn’t sleep because I wasn’t used to it: sleeping outside, worrying too much, no news from UNHCR, no news from home. I didn’t know this life before. I worried the whole night, constantly felt abandoned and lonely. I cried a lot.

In the morning the beach cleaners knew I was there, but didn’t make a fuss about it. Maybe they saw us, maybe they couldn’t do anything about it. I was there with another Ghanaian guy who slept there before me. Also another Nigerian guy join for a few weeks, but he gave up his case and went back home. We left the walkway before 7am to wash at the nearby public toilet. The water was cold and made my body ache as I wasn’t used to sleeping on the cold sand that chilled my bones. The beach was safe, but very lonely. It was an experience I will never forget as I didn’t expect to suffer like this in a modern city. It’s my wish that with your Refugee Shelter others will be spared my ordeal. May God bless you and support you with what you are doing. Thank you.

Ferdinand, 28 Congo

Ferdinand slept two months below this Gold Coast beach walkway
Ferdinand slept two months below this Gold Coast beach walkway