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LCQ6: Support services for street sleepers
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     Following is a question by the Dr Hon Lau Siu-lai and a reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Mr Stephen Sui, in the Legislative Council today (March 22):
 
Question :

     ‚ÄčOn the night of the 5th of this month, a fire broke out under a flyover at Tung Chau Street in Sham Shui Po, which resulted in quite a number of street sleepers who had been staying there losing all their property and having nowhere to stay.  These street sleepers called the emergency relief services hotline of the Home Affairs Department to seek assistance on that night, but no temporary accommodation was provided to them. Some concern groups have pointed out that since only a total of 630 places are currently provided by hostels which have accommodation for street sleepers, coupled with the fact that these hostels concurrently receive other needy people, hostel places are always in short supply. In addition, the lodgers of such hostels are generally required to move out upon the expiry of a six-month residence time limit even if they have not secured long-term accommodation. This, together with the grossly inadequate drug addiction treatment services and mental health services, have made it difficult for street sleepers to extricate themselves from street sleeping. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
 
(1) of the number of fire outbreaks in the past five years at places where street sleepers congregated; the emergency relief services provided by the authorities to the street sleepers concerned; whether the authorities have any plan to step up such services; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(2) whether it has any plan to substantially increase the number of hostels and hostel places designated for street sleepers and, at the same time, extend the residence time limit to two years or longer, so as to ensure that street sleepers have sufficient time to secure long-term accommodation and solve their personal problems before moving out of the hostels, thereby truly helping street sleepers to extricate themselves from street sleeping; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and
 
(3) of the manpower deployed by the Government and subvented organisations for providing street sleepers with drug addiction treatment services and outreach mental health services in each of the past five years, and the respective person-times of street sleepers receiving such services; whether the authorities have any plan to step up such services; if so, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?

Reply:
 
President,
 
     After consulting the Home Affairs Department (HAD), the Security Bureau and the Food and Health Bureau and consolidating the available information, my reply to Dr Hon Lau Siu-lai's question is as follows:
 
(1) In the event of emergency or inclement weather, HAD plays a coordinating role to provide, in collaboration with other departments, emergency support services to the affected persons, including provision of hot meals, distribution of blankets and other relief materials, immediate grant of emergency fund to the families of the injured or deceased when necessary, as well as referring the needy persons for other social welfare services. These emergency support services are available to both street sleepers and general members of the public. 

     The Fire Services Department does not have the breakdown on the number of fires occurred at places where street sleepers congregated.
 
(2) The Social Welfare Department (SWD) subvents six non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to operate urban hostels for single persons and urban emergency shelters. With the increase of 20 places provided through reallocation of resources in 2016-17, there are a total of 222 subvented places. Taking into account 408 places provided by NGOs on a self-financing basis at present, there are a total number of 630 subvented or self-financing places. 

     The maximum duration of stay at subvented places is normally six months. However, the responsible social workers may consider extending the stay having regard to the needs of individual cases, so as to facilitate the implementation of long-term accommodation plans. The duration of stay in self-financing hostels is determined by the operating agencies concerned.
 
     In the past three financial years, the average utilisation rate of subvented places was about 80 per cent. SWD will duly review the duration of stay in hostels, and closely keep in view the supply and demand of the service.
 
     In addition to making use of the above-mentioned dedicated hostels for accommodating street sleepers, SWD and NGOs may also, on compassionate grounds, refer street sleepers for admission to the two self-financing singleton hostels under HAD, which altogether provide a total of 580 places.
 
(3) Hong Kong adopts a multi-modality approach in its drug treatment and rehabilitation services. Drug users, including street sleepers with drug addiction, may choose suitable service having regard to individual needs and circumstances. At present, various drug treatment and rehabilitation services in general are able to meet service demand. 

     Since October 2010, SWD has set up 24 Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness (ICCMWs) across the territory. These ICCMWs, operated by NGOs, provide one-stop, district-based community mental health support services, including outreaching services. Target service recipients include, among others, street sleepers. In 2017-18, an additional recurrent funding of around $32 million will be allocated to further increase the number of social workers and supporting staff at ICCMWs.
 
     The Hospital Authority (HA) adopts an integrated and multi-disciplinary approach in the delivery of various healthcare services for persons with mental health problems, including street sleepers. In 2017-18, an additional recurrent funding of $73 million will be allocated to HA for enhancing psychiatric services.
 
     The Government does not keep breakdown figures on the manpower for the provision of drug rehabilitation services and outreaching mental health services for street sleepers nor on the number of street sleepers receiving such services.
 
Ends/Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:35
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