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LCQ12: Support services to street sleepers

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Sing-chi and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (February 18):


     It has been reported that as the financial tsunami has caused global economic downturn, quite a number of Hong Kong residents who used to work in Macao and Guangdong Province have recently returned one after another to reside in Hong Kong because they had lost their jobs or they had closed down their businesses, and they have become street sleepers due to financial difficulties. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council whether:

(a) it knows among the people who are street sleepers, the number and percentage of the aforesaid people as well as the number and percentage of those who are not eligible to apply for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance because they have been absent from Hong Kong for more than 56 days during the one-year period immediately before the date of application; if not, whether it will conduct such a survey as soon as possible;

(b) it knows the average daily occupancy rate, in each month of the past three years, of the shelters for street sleepers run by non-governmental organisations, and whether there was a significant increase in the occupancy rates for the last three months; and

(c) it had, in the past three years, reviewed if the resources for the provision of support services for street sleepers were adequate for meeting new service demands, providing urgent support services for street sleepers, and publicising the various services to them?



(a) The Government does not collect the data asked in the question and has no plan to conduct a survey to collect such data. In fact, any street sleepers having genuine financial difficulties or other welfare needs can always seek help from the Integrated Services Teams for Street Sleepers (ISTs) subvented by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) and the Integrated Family Service Centres/Integrated Services Centres (IFSCs/ISCs), regardless of their reasons for becoming street sleepers and whether they have left Hong Kong for more than 56 days during the past year. Social workers will provide appropriate support and services to them according to their individual circumstances.

(b) SWD subvents non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to operate five Urban Hostels and one emergency shelter with a total capacity of 192 places. These hostels/shelter provide short-term accommodation and counselling services to people in need, including street sleepers.

     The average daily occupancy rates of these hostels/shelter in each month of the past three years are at Annex. As noted from the data, the occupancy rates for the last three months (October 2008 to December 2008) remained stable, without any marked increase.

(c) The Government has always been concerned about the needs of street sleepers. We provide a wide range of support services to address their emergency needs and strengthen their work motivation and skills, so as to help them give up street sleeping and become self-reliant.

     Since April 2004, under the welfare programme, SWD has been subventing three NGOs, namely the Salvation Army, St James' Settlement and the Christian Concern for the Homeless Association, to each operate an IST. The ISTs provide street sleepers with one-stop integrated services including emergency shelter/short-term hostel placement, emergency relief fund, personal care (e.g. bathing, hair-cutting and meal service), counselling, arrangement of long-term accommodation, employment guidance and service referrals, etc. The ISTs also make day and late-night outreaching visits, proactively engaging street sleepers and identifying their needs as early as possible. In addition, IFSCs/ISCs run by SWD and NGOs also provide street sleepers with various counselling and support services.

     Besides the aforementioned welfare services, SWD also subvents the Society for Community Organisation to run a Care and Support Networking Team. Through the provision of outreaching support, casework and group work services, the team aims at helping street sleepers and other vulnerable groups reintegrate into the community, thus contributing to the Home Affairs Bureau's policy objective on community development.

     With the concerted efforts of various Government departments and NGOs, there has been a significant drop in the number of street sleepers in recent years. According to the Street Sleepers Registry of SWD, the number of street sleepers has gradually dropped from 463 in April 2004 to 374 in December 2008.

     Although there is no evidence showing a significant increase in the number of street sleepers over the past few months, SWD will, in collaboration with the NGOs concerned, keep in view possible impacts of the recent global financial tsunami on street sleepers, and take appropriate measures having regard to the service demand.

Ends/Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Issued at HKT 12:31


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