Homeless amidst the COVID-19: “Even if I wanted to sleep on the street, I would have no idea where I shall sleep”
Jul 31, 2020
The unemployment rate of Hong Kong has reached its 15-year high. Many individuals have been jobless due to the COVID-19. Yeung (alias, right) is one of them and has no place to stay for a few months.
MSF has arranged the temporary shelter for him and Wing Tam, MSF caseworker follow-up on his needs. ©MSF
"At first, I lived in a hostel which cost HK$250 per day, but I soon realised that it was too expensive for me, so I moved to an internet cafe for HK$35 per night. In May, I could go to the nearby gymnasium to take a shower, but now I can’t do anything. With the outbreak, I haven’t been able to find a job since April. I have no accommodation or support. I feel helpless, even if I wanted to sleep on the street, I would have no idea where I shall sleep,” said Yeung (alias), 34-year-old, one of the homeless people who is now settled in the hostel provided by the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) for the homeless during the COVID-19 outbreak in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong’s first COVID-19 patients were confirmed in late January 2020 and the city saw a decline of infections by April. Yeung, who was working as a cleaner in a private clubhouse, thought it might be a good time to change jobs. But the effects of the outbreak remain very uncertain and job opportunities are fewer. It has left Yeung jobless for more than three months. "In the past I found my jobs through newspaper job advertisements. As soon as I went to interviews, I was recruited immediately, with food and accommodation provided. But I can’t find a job now," he said.
On 12 July, Yeung finally got a job at a restaurant. He was going to start the following day, but unexpectedly, later that night, the government announced stricter COVID-19 social distancing measures as Hong Kong is facing its most severe outbreak since early this year. One of the new measures is suspension of dine-in services in restaurants. This had an immediate effect on Yeung’s security. He became unemployed again even before he started. "With the restrictions, I don’t know where to go. When I walk in the street with temperature hitting over 30 degrees Celsius, I get sweaty and smelly. No boss will hire me if I go for interview like that. If gymnasiums were still open, I could still go for shower, but now they are all closed."
"A social worker and a district councilor once helped me to apply for a shelter, but either I was asked to pay a monthly rent of HK$6700 or asked for a referral from the government department. I have been looking for some NGOs that provide accommodation for street sleepers, but they are all closed due to the outbreak,” he added. After failing to get any response after a number of attempts, he became desperate and attempted to end his life. He was then hospitalised and saved. After staying in the hospital for three days, he was discharged. But before leaving the hospital, he was frustrated with his gloomy future again. But this time, he decided to seek for help and finally received the contact information of MSF and ImpactHK by a nurse.
Yeung is now one of the people staying in a hostel arranged by MSF.
"It helps a lot by providing me with accommodation. At least there is a place to stay, there is food, and a doctor to see if I am sick. I am just a stranger to them, but they are offering me a room in the hostel. It’s just like the light at the end of the tunnel and I am so moved.”
After searching for a few hours on the internet, Yeung now plans to apply for a job as a kitchen assistant in an elderly care centre. When asked if he is worried about the COVID-19 clusters at elderly care centres, he said, "I am worried, but I am someone who lives from hand to mouth. So, I am determined to be strong again to find a job."
Reading: Homeless people increase amidst the COVID-19 outbreak: MSF provides temporary shelter and free medical consultations
Since June 2020, MSF has been working with a local organisation ImpactHK to provide temporary shelters and free medical consultation for Hong Kong’s homeless. ImpactHK supports Hong Kong’s homeless and is one of the few that has continued its services during the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, our caseworkers follow-up on individuals with needs. Within a month, MSF has conducted 25 medical consultations and has arranged temporary shelters for 15 vulnerable individuals. MSF has been responding to COVID-19 outbreaks in Hong Kong since January 2020 through health education, mental health workshops and awareness raising.