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LCQ2: Inter-departmental joint operation conducted in Tung Chau Street, Sham Shui Po

     Following is a question by the Hon Wong Yuk-man and a written reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing, in the Legislative Council today (March 21):


     It has been reported in the press that on February 15 this year, the Sham Shui Po District Office (DO) carried out a joint operation with other government departments to clear the sleeping places of street sleepers in the district. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) why DO removed the personal documents and belongings of street sleepers without giving any notice and refused to return them to the owners; whether it has assessed if such practice contravenes section 20 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132); if it has, of the assessment result; whether DO will arrange street sleepers to retrieve their personal documents and belongings;

(b) given the cold weather on the day of the aforesaid operation, whether the relevant government departments immediately arranged the street sleepers to seek refuge in temporary cold shelters after the clearing operation; if not, of the reasons for that;

(c) given that the Home Affairs Department (HAD) will open temporary cold shelters when the Hong Kong Observatory issues cold weather warning, whether HAD will at the same time arrange staff members to reach out to street sleepers in the districts and assist them in seeking refuge in the temporary cold shelters; if not, of the reasons for that; and

(d) given that some organisations have pointed out that at present there are around 1,000 street sleepers in Hong Kong, whether the Government will allocate additional resources to the Social Welfare Department or other social welfare organisations, so as to enhance their support services provided to street sleepers?



     The Government has always been concerned about the needs of street sleepers. We provide various support services to address their emergency needs and enhance their work motivation and skills so as to help them give up street sleeping and become self-reliant.

     In certain districts, the public have expressed concerns over hygiene and law and order issues at places with more street sleepers. As far as Sham Shui Po district is concerned, the Sham Shui Po District Office (DO) has been coordinating joint operations conducted at these spots. The departments concerned discharge their duties in accordance with their respective purviews to enhance environmental hygiene, while showing full respect for the street sleepers.

     In general, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) is aware of the details of the operation beforehand and would approach the street sleepers and provide suitable assistance. Social workers of agencies subvented by SWD also visit the street sleepers at different times to understand their needs and offer assistance.

     The reply to the four parts of the question is as follows:

(a) Regarding the joint operation of February 15, 2012 conducted under the Tung Chau Street Flyover in Sham Shui Po which was reported in the press, the DO was responsible for the coordination work before the operation, while the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department (FEHD) and the Police were responsible for street cleansing and maintaining law and order respectively. Staff of the DO was not on site during the operation.

     As in the past, staff from participating departments would first explained their actions to the street sleepers affected and allowed them time for packing and removal of personal belongings, including identification documents and other properties. It is only after the street sleepers have removed their belongings that the staff of FEHD would begin to clear the litter and waste left behind and cleanse the place. The litter and waste collected would be transported to refuse transfer stations for disposal when the operation was completed. During the operation, the staff of FEHD would allow the street sleepers to retrieve anything that they wished to take back from the litter or waste that has been left behind.

     Regarding Section 20 of the Public Health and Municipal Services Ordinance (Cap. 132) referred to in the question, the FEHD considers that there is no need to issue a notice under the aforesaid section because the Department is responsible for the clearing of litter and waste left on the ground during the joint operation.

(b) When the Hong Kong Observatory (HKO) issues cold weather warning, the Home Affairs Department (HAD) will open temporary cold shelters (TCSs) across the territory for use by people in need.  According to our records, HKO did not issue cold weather warning on February 15 and therefore the TCSs were not opened on that day.

(c) When TCSs across the territory are open, the HAD will issue a press release to notify members of the public. Banners will also be erected in conspicuous positions near the TCSs in districts to indicate that the facilities are in operation. The TCSs in Sham Shui Po district is located in Nam Cheong District Community Centre, which is close to the places where street sleepers in the district usually gather. It is observed that users of the TCS are mainly street sleepers in the vicinity. In addition, the SWD also co-ordinates visits by social workers from local welfare agencies to places where street sleepers usually gather at different times of the day. The social worker will arrange regular outreach services to the street sleepers and provide suitable services to those in need.

(d) As mentioned above, the Government has always been concerned about the needs of street sleepers and provides various support services to them. According to the statistics of SWD, until February 2012, the number of registered street sleepers in Hong Kong was 504.

     Since April 2004, SWD has been providing subvention to three non-governmental organisations (NGOs) for each to operate an Integrated Services Team for Street Sleepers (IST). ISTs provide one-stop services for street sleepers including day and late-night outreaching visits, emergency shelter and short-term hostel placement, counselling, employment guidance, personal care (e.g. bathing, haircut and meals), emergency relief fund, arrangement of long-term accommodation, aftercare service and service referrals, etc. Since 2009-10, SWD has allocated an additional $20,000 for each IST, bringing the annual emergency fund from $50,000 to $70,000, to help eligible users cover various expenses, such as short-term payment of rent and living costs, rental deposit and other removal expenses, etc.

     To address the emergency and short-term accommodation needs of street sleepers and other needy persons, SWD subvents NGOs to operate five urban hostels and two emergency shelters, providing a total of 202 short-term accommodation places with related counselling services. Apart from these subvented places, there are eight street sleeper hostels or temporary shelters operated by NGOs on a self-financing basis, providing a total of 437 places of overnight or temporary accommodation for street sleepers.

     SWD will continue to closely monitor the demand and operation of these street sleeper services.

Ends/Wednesday, March 21, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:10


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