LCQ21: Situation of street sleepers

     Following is a question by the Hon Chan Pui-leung and a written reply by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare, Dr Law Chi-kwong, in the Legislative Council today (June 22):
     It is learnt that the number of street sleepers in the territory increased by 70 per cent in the past five years and, amid the epidemic, street sleepers' lives have become more difficult. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the number of street sleepers in the territory in each of the past three years, and set out in the table below a breakdown by the District Council district to which their street sleeping points belonged and by gender; 
District Council
2019 2020 2021
Male Female Total Male Female Total Male Female Total
Central and
Western District
(2) as it is learnt that due to the difference in the criteria for compiling statistics, the number of street sleepers registered under the Computerised Street Sleeper Registry (Registry) of the Social Welfare Department (SWD) is far lower than the number in the statistics compiled by some community organisations, whether the SWD will review and improve the registration procedure and the criteria for compiling statistics in respect of the Registry, so as to ensure that the figures can accurately reflect the actual situation; 

(3) of the details of the street sleeping points where most street sleepers are staying at present; 

(4) in respect of the emergency, temporary or long-term residential services (i) subvented by the SWD and (ii) operated by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) on a self-financing basis, of their respective details, including their eligibility requirements for admission, time limits for the stay, and ratios of residential places for men and for women, as well as their occupancy rates in the past three years; 

(5) of the details of the following services provided in the past three years by the three Integrated Service Teams for Street Sleepers operated by NGOs with SWD's subvention: the number of operations conducted, the number of persons reached, the assistance provided (e.g. personal epidemic prevention materials distributed to street sleepers), and the number of referrals made; the related expenditure and service effectiveness; and 

(6) as some members of the public have relayed that the behaviours of some street sleepers have caused environmental hygiene nuisances, of the measures in place to provide assistance to street sleepers in order to address such problems?

     Street sleeping is a complex social problem involving policies and work of various bureaux and departments. Government departments and local service units concerned have been in close collaboration to assist street sleepers. Having consulted the Food and Health Bureau and the Home Affairs Bureau, I provide a consolidated reply to the question as follows:
(1) and (2) To keep track of the demand for welfare support services for street sleepers, the Social Welfare Department (SWD) has set up a Computerised Street Sleeper Registry (Registry) to collect information about street sleepers through various service units of the SWD and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as NGOs dedicated to serving street sleepers (including the SWD-subvented Integrated Services Teams for Street Sleepers (ISTs) and the Care and Support Networking Team).
     According to the information kept by the Registry, the numbers of street sleepers by District Council district in the past three years are as follows:
Year 2019-20 2020-21 2021-22
District Council district Male Female Total Male Female Total Male Female Total
Central & Western 54 8 62 51 9 60 46 6 52
Wan Chai 69 9 78 69 9 78 53 7 60
Eastern 22 4 26 26 2 28 23 2 25
Southern 4 0 4 3 0 3 3 0 3
Yau Tsim Mong 513 65 578 644 81 725 541 69 610
Sham Shui Po 403 30 433 396 36 432 388 33 421
Kowloon City 34 5 39 30 5 35 53 7 60
Wong Tai Sin 6 1 7 10 0 10 12 0 12
Kwun Tong 43 6 49 51 10 61 62 14 76
Kwai Tsing 10 0 10 13 0 13 20 3 23
Tsuen Wan 36 3 39 39 4 43 40 10 50
Tuen Mun 3 1 4 8 2 10 20 7 27
Yuen Long 30 5 35 27 4 31 64 6 70
North 6 3 9 7 3 10 22 4 26
Tai Po 16 5 21 15 3 18 17 8 25
Sha Tin 7 1 8 5 1 6 12 2 14
Sai Kung 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1
Islands 17 4 21 16 1 17 9 0 9
Total 1 273 150 1 423 1 410 170 1 580 1 386 178 1 564
     At present, with the consent of the street sleepers concerned, social workers will submit their information to the SWD after making professional judgment on their welfare needs. Moreover, the social workers are required to update the Registry as soon as possible if there are changes in the situation of the street sleepers in order to maintain the data accuracy of the Registry. As every case detail of every street sleeper is different, it may not be feasible and practicable to adopt aligned criteria for compiling statistics. The SWD will keep in view the evolving welfare needs of street sleepers, and review from time to time to see if there is room to improve the registration procedure and the criteria for compiling statistics in respect of the Registry.
(3) According to the Registry, street sleepers mainly sleep on streets, roadsides, footbridges or in parks, etc. In 2021-22, the district with the largest number of registered street sleepers was Yau Tsim Mong (610 people), accounting for 39 per cent of the registered street sleepers, followed by Sham Shui Po (421 people), which accounted for 27 per cent. Please refer to the reply to parts (1) and (2) for details.
(4) The SWD provides emergency shelter/short-term hostel places for street sleepers to address their short-term accommodation needs and assist in their transitional arrangements. Service users should, in general, have basic self-care ability. Social workers will help them develop a regular living pattern during their stay, and will assist them to identify long-term accommodation or appropriate residential service. The SWD-subvented hostel placement normally lasts for a maximum period of six months, and social workers responsible may consider extending the length of stay subject to the needs of individual cases.
     At present, there are a total of 620 places of temporary accommodation for street sleepers, including 228 NGO-operated short-term hostel/emergency shelter places subvented by SWD, and 392 places provided by NGOs on a self-financing basis. The numbers of places for men and women are 472 and 148 respectively. The average occupancy rates of subvented places in 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 (up to December 2021) are about 83 per cent, 75 per cent and 74 per cent respectively.
(5) The three ISTs subvented by the SWD conduct outreaching visits to approach street sleepers for early identification of their needs, providing them with appropriate social welfare support and service referral. These include counselling, employment support/guidance, service referrals, Comprehensive Social Security Assistance referrals, personal care (e.g. bathing, haircut and meal arrangement), emergency shelter/short-term accommodation, as well as emergency fund to cover various expenses (e.g. short-term payment of rent and living costs, rental deposits and other removal expenses). In 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22 (up to December 2021), the ISTs conducted 1 075, 1 347 and 1 162 outreaching visits respectively, and approached 622, 837 and 532 street sleepers.

     During the epidemic, the ISTs continued to conduct outreaching visits so as to identify the social welfare needs of street sleepers and provide them with the services required, including dissemination of up-to-date pandemic-related information and distribution of anti-epidemic supplies. The ISTs also made use of the SWD’s emergency fund to meet the urgent welfare needs of street sleepers as and when required. In addition, to provide assistance in stepping up preventive measures against the spread of the virus, the SWD has provided six rounds of special allowance to subvented NGOs (including service units serving street sleepers) and NGOs operating hostels for street sleepers on a self-financing basis for the purchase of personal protective equipment and disinfection supplies. The Outcome Standards to be met by the ISTs under the relevant Funding and Service Agreement are set out at Annex. The SWD does not keep information on the service referrals made by the ISTs.
     The Government provides integrated services for street sleepers (including residential services) through subventions to NGOs. The expenditures involved in 2019-20 and 2020-21 are about $23.6 million and $27.5 million respectively, while the revised estimate for 2021-22 is $29.6 million.
(6) Government departments are responsible for the cleansing duties for the areas under respective purviews to maintain the environmental hygiene of the sites concerned. Government departments and local service units concerned will continue to be in close collaboration, with a view to providing appropriate assistance to street sleepers.

Ends/Wednesday, June 22, 2022
Issued at HKT 15:37