LCQ9: Measures to assist homeless people
It has been reported that amid the COVID-19 epidemic, the number of homeless people in Hong Kong has increased significantly as compared with that in the past. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether it has compiled statistics on the number of homeless people in each of the past five years;
(2) of the number of homeless people who were recommended by the Social Welfare Department to the Housing Department for allocation of public rental housing units in each of the past five years;
(3) whether it has conducted studies to see if the underlying causes of homelessness of these people (such as poverty, mental problems, indebtedness and drug addiction) have become more serious amid the epidemic; and
(4) of the new measures in place to assist the homeless people in coping with the epidemic and improving their livelihood?
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 relevant bureaux and departments, I provide a consolidated reply to the question as follows:
(1) The Social Welfare Department (SWD) has set up the Computerised Street Sleeper Registry to collect information about street sleepers through various casework units of the SWD and non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as NGOs dedicated to serving street sleepers. According to the information of the Registry, the number of registered street sleepers in the past five years is set out as follows:
|Number of street sleepers||1 297||1 423||1 580||1 564||1 441|
During the epidemic, the number of registered street sleepers increased from 1 423 (as at end-March 2020) to 1 564 (as at end-March 2022). With the epidemic situation subsiding, the number of street sleepers has dropped to 1 441 (as at end-March 2023).
(2) The SWD provides subventions for NGOs to provide short-term accommodation for street sleepers. At present, there are a total of 626 places of emergency and short-term accommodation for street sleepers, including 228 places subvented by the SWD and 398 places provided by NGOs on a self-financing basis. Regarding accommodation needs of street sleepers, social workers of Integrated Services Teams for Street Sleepers (ISTs) subvented by the SWD and related service units will, based on the wishes and actual conditions of street sleepers, help the street sleepers make more stable accommodation arrangements. Examples of such arrangements include assisting them in renting private tenement, referring them to apply for residential care services for the elderly, making recommendation to the Housing Department (HD) for allocation of public rental housing (PRH) units for eligible cases, as well as other accommodation assistance programmes. Among them, with the recommendations of social workers in charge of the cases concerned, the SWD will assess each of these cases and consider recommending eligible cases to the HD for compassionate rehousing. Upon receipt of relevant recommendations, the HD will arrange for allocation of PRH units as soon as possible, after completion of regular procedures. The Government does not maintain figures of street sleepers who were recommended by the SWD to the HD for allocation of PRH units.
(3) The reasons for street sleeping vary, including being unable to identify affordable housing due to unemployment or high rents, having family relationship problems and choosing to live on the streets, being recently discharged from hospital/prison/drug addiction treatment centre resulting in failure to find an abode, financial instability, lacking the will to live off the streets due to mental health or drug abuse problems, or a desire to stay in a familiar community, etc. Furthermore, some people temporarily lived on the streets during the epidemic because they were unable to return to the Mainland for residence or work due to quarantine requirements at border crossings. These new street sleepers lived off the streets after their problems were solved accordingly.
(4) During the epidemic, the ISTs continued to conduct daytime and late-night outreach visits to actively approach street sleepers, so as to understand their reasons for street sleeping and to provide integrated services according to the actual needs of street sleepers and their willingness to receive services. These services, including counselling, service referrals, short-term accommodation and applying for financial assistance, etc., are provided to address the immediate welfare needs of street sleepers to assist them in living off the streets and reintegrating into the community. The ISTs also provided up-to-date epidemic-related information to street sleepers, distributed anti-epidemic supplies to them, and kept in view the service needs and the use of emergency relief funds, so as to meet the pressing needs of street sleepers. In addition, to help stepping up anti-epidemic measures, the SWD had provided six rounds of special allowance to NGOs receiving subventions (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.
In the light of the full resumption of normalcy of society, COVID-19 is now being managed as an upper respiratory tract illness. Nevertheless, COVID-19 infection still poses certain health risks. High-risk individuals should receive the first three doses of COVID-19 vaccine and get an additional vaccine booster in a timely manner in accordance with the latest recommendation made by the experts. If street sleepers belong to the priority groups (including individuals aged 50 or above, persons aged 18 to 49 with underlying comorbidities, etc.), they can receive an additional vaccine booster six months after their last dose or COVID-19 infection (whichever is later) free of charge in 2023, regardless of the number of vaccine doses they received in the past. Also, for those who are aged six months or above and not belonging to the priority groups, they can continue to receive the first three doses of COVID-19 vaccine free of charge if they have never been infected with COVID-19.
Ends/Wednesday, May 3, 2023
Issued at HKT 11:10
Issued at HKT 11:10