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LCQ20: Street sleepers

     Following is a question by the Hon Cheung Kwok-che and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, in the Legislative Council today (March 11):


     Some local organisations have repeatedly relayed to me that the Government has underestimated the number of street sleepers in Hong Kong and the situation of insufficient residential places for them. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) how the authorities will improve the existing information system for collecting statistics on street sleepers in Hong Kong;

(b) of the average number of registered street sleepers each month from February 2008 to January this year, and whether this number had risen as compared to that of the preceding 12 months;

(c) whether it knows the specified time restriction on stay of the residential places currently provided to street sleepers by various non-government organisations (including the three street sleepers' shelters operated by Street Sleepers' Shelter Society Trustees Incorporated), and whether it has looked into the situation of street sleepers staying beyond the specified time restriction on stay; if it has, of the details;

(d) of the time normally taken by the Social Welfare Department (SWD) to vet and approve street sleepers' applications for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance;

(e) whether there are street sleepers receiving assistance from charitable/trust funds administered by SWD (including Li Po Chun Charitable Trust Fund, Tang Shiu Kin & Ho Tim Charitable Fund, Kwan Fong Trust Fund for the Needy and Brewin Trust Fund); if so, of the details; and

(f) of the operations, in terms of funding, materials and the residential services provided, of the three Integrated Services Teams for Street Sleepers subvented by SWD last year?



(a) The Social Welfare Department (SWD) has set up a Street Sleepers Registry (SSR) to capture street sleepers' data. To ensure that the record is accurate, both SWD and services units of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) specialised in serving street sleepers (including the three integrated services teams for street sleepers (ISTs) and the Society for Community Organisation) have to register newly confirmed street sleeper cases with the SSR on a monthly basis; and de-register the case when they confirm that the street sleeper has given up street sleeping.

(b) The average number of registered street sleepers per month for the period from February 2008 to January 2009 was 358, an increase of 23 over the average monthly figure in the preceding 12 months (335).

(c) At present, there are seven street sleeper shelters/temporary shelters operated by NGOs (including the Street Sleepers' Shelter Society Trustee Incorporated) on a self-financing basis. The period of stay normally should not exceed six weeks. Since the shelters are operated on a self-financing basis, SWD does not have information on street sleepers who continue to occupy shelter places beyond the time limit.

     As regards the five urban hostels and the temporary shelter operated by NGOs subvented by SWD, the period of stay normally should not exceed six months. SWD is not aware of any street sleepers occupying these shelter places beyond the time limit.

(d) Regardless of whether an applicant is a street sleeper, upon receipt of an application for Comprehensive Social Security Assistance, SWD will contact the applicant for an interview to verify the applicant's circumstances and information provided by the applicant. Under normal circumstances, and if the applicant can produce all the necessary information, the application process can be completed within four weeks.

(e) If other resources are not available, SWD will, having regard to  individual circumstances, provide temporary cash grants to individuals and families (including street sleepers) to help them tide over financial difficulties arising from emergencies. Funding for these cash grants comes from the allocations that SWD receive from the four charitable trust funds mentioned in the question. SWD does not keep statistics on the number of street sleepers among the beneficiaries.

(f) In April 2004, SWD set up three ISTs for operation by St James' Settlement, Salvation Army and Christian Concern for Homeless Association to provide street sleepers throughout the territory with one-stop integrated services including day and late-night outreaching visits, emergency placement and/or short-term hostel placement, counseling service, employment assistance, personal care (e.g. bathing, hair-cutting and meal service), emergency relief fund, arrangement of long-term accommodation and service referrals, etc.

     The operating funds of the three ISTs come from SWD's recurrent subvention which amounts to $8.73 million in 2008-09 (revised estimates). The subvention includes an emergency fund of $50,000 for each IST which is to meet the urgent financial needs of street sleepers. If necessary, SWD will consider increasing the provision for the emergency funds.

     The three ISTs may use SWD's subvention to purchase materials for providing tangible assistance, such as basic necessities, dry rations and hot meal, etc., to street sleepers according to their individual needs.

     At present, the emergency shelter and short-term hostels operated by the three ISTs altogether provide 90 places of short-term accommodation and counseling services for street sleepers and other needy persons. Admission is by referral of SWD or NGOs only. For the period from April to December 2008, the average utilisation rate of these shelter/hostels was 81%.

Ends/Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Issued at HKT 13:01


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