12 January 2015. It’s a cold night! Single mother Siti endures the worst case scenario. She lost a friend’s support and ISS-HK failed to assist. She is in Fung Cheung Road Garden, near Yuen Long MTR. Her 5 month daughter cries. She prepares to sleep on a concrete slab. Nearby is a public toilet she uses to care for her baby congenitally sick since birth.
Vision First was informed that mother and child are service users of ISS-HK and their emergency situation was brought to the attention of their caseworker (name withheld) over several phone calls that afternoon and evening. Siti had been homeless for several weeks, because she is unable to secure a room for the 2250$ budget she offered. A refugee family supported her until the landlord complained.
The mother reports she called her ISS-HK caseworker for emergency assistance. She suggested that a room in a guesthouse be provided for a few nights as she continued the challenging search for a permanent home – prices for single room 3000$ and up. Apparently her request was turned down. She said she was told that guesthouses are for men only. Gender discrimination?
Siti reports that the caseworker offered assistance at the ISS-HK shelter in Central instead. However, the mother lamented she had no money for the MTR fare, about 27$ and pleaded in the name of her sick baby. Regrettably her implorations fell on deaf ears and the caseworker hung up the phone. Mother and baby then slept rough on a very cold night.
Disappointing it is when those assisting the vulnerable come short on empathy and compassion. There might be stringent welfare rules against settling women in guesthouses, but surely they are overridden by civility rules against abandoning mothers and babies in the street in winter. Personal discretion and concern, if not professionalism, should prevail.
Caseworkers may possibly find themselves overwhelmed by crises that don’t neatly follow the service arrows in the colourful flow-chart before their eyes. Calling friends is often suggested as an alternative to destitution, but is it right to expect destitute others to provide aid? What if they are not available, or phone are off because they are not afforded credit? Public shelters in winter might be full or closed. Transportation money is not provided even when a solution might be in sight. Then perhaps frustration prevails before pressing demands that have become all too common.
Such situations are dangerous failures in service, as well as daunting failures in humanity.