Charity warns of growing street sleeper population - RTHK
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Charity warns of growing street sleeper population

2021-01-11 HKT 14:42
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  • A Hong Kong charity there's been a huge increase in the number of people sleeping rough in recent months. Image: Shutterstock
    A Hong Kong charity there's been a huge increase in the number of people sleeping rough in recent months. Image: Shutterstock
Jeff Rotmeyer speaks to RTHK's Richard Pyne
A charity that provides support for Hong Kong's homeless population says it has seen a huge increase in the number of street sleepers in the past few months.

The founder and chief executive of ImpactHK, Jeff Rotmeyer, said this increase is partly due to places like fast food restaurants shutting their doors, in line with anti-epidemic restrictions. But he said they are also seeing more people sleeping on the streets because of job losses.

"The homeless population in Hong Kong is massive," Rotmeyer said.

"Especially if you really count what is really 'homeless' – which are illegal spaces, coffin homes, cage homes, rooftop dwellings. And a lot of individuals who live in those illegal homeless spaces do often struggle with the amount of job loss that we're seeing; so many individuals in those circumstances are falling down and it's giving them no choice but to sleep outside."

"This weather is freezing, so it's extremely heartbreaking to see."

Rotmeyer said the charity does not have exact figures on the number of new homeless people, but it is seeing about a 20 percent increase in the number of street sleepers during its 'kindness walks' each day. He said 15 new individuals came through their doors on one day a few weeks ago.

"So the need out there is immense, and it's quite a scary time," Rotmeyer said.

The recent cold snap is also a major concern.

Rotmeyer said ImpactHK has been trying to reach as many as possible with sleeping bags and blankets.

He said the emergency cold shelters provided by the government are not the long-term solution.

"I have to say that, even when they are open and even despite this incredibly cold weather, most homeless individuals won't go there, they have a lack of trust for those spaces," he said.

"Really it's due to a lack of support there, a lack of care there. They feel like they're an inconvenience there, and they're really treated that way, so it's not really a process that works – so even when those are open, it's really not the answer."

He said it's very difficult to help homeless individual off the streets, as it is not as simple a process as one might think. He said these individuals have suffered serious pain and trauma, so shelter is needed alongside a comprehensive counselling and support system.