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Working but still homeless in Hong Kong

Mr Tony Yeung liked to party. He drank, gambled and hung out with his friends.
Asia One - May 7, 2013
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Working but still homeless in Hong Kong

Mr Tony Yeung liked to party. He drank, gambled and hung out with his friends.

He had a job but life as he saw it was supposed to be fun. He fell in with a bunch of married men at work, all party animals.

His partying ways didn't leave him with enough money from part-time jobs to pay the rent on his subdivided flat in Central.

In the end, he couldn't even afford the bus fare to get to work in Fortress Hill.

One day, he grabbed his clothes, a towel, a piece of soap and a toothbrush, found a place to sleep in a park in Tsuen Wan and stayed there for two years.

By the time he was 25, he was out of a job, living on the street. There was no family to go back to.

As far as he was concerned, his parents cared only for his younger brother.

It never crossed his mind to call his friends. He was too ashamed. "I didn't know what my friends would think of me if I told them I ended up like this - and I wouldn't lie if they asked," he told China Daily.

Now, Mr Yeung looks back with regret at the days, months and years of his wasted life.

At 37, he looks much older, his skin rough and swarthy, his manner uncertain, tentative. He admits to feeling physically and mentally weaker than he was before making the fatal choice that led him to a life of debauchery.

He would go to an all-night Mc- Donald's. "If I had money, I would buy a drink and sit overnight. They wouldn't allow me to take a nap at the table," he recalled. He would sleep at a sports facility.

With no home address, younger people like Mr Yeung tend to shrink away, sleeping in hidden places, ashamed to expose themselves to pitying gaze or to that certain indifference of manner which won't acknowledge that they are even there.

Homeless people always hope their straitened circumstances are temporary, but getting out can be like being mired in quicksand.

Mr Yeung is among a younger group of people entering the ranks of the homeless. Many who are sleeping on the streets have jobs but still cannot afford a place to call home. Some stay on the streets for only a short time, before making their way back to the mainstream.

"The unemployment rate among these relatively young people is not that high. The problem is the wages of low-end jobs are as low as HK$5,000 (S$790), half of what they were before the Asian financial crisis of 1997. It's impossible for them to have more to rent a place," explained Mr Ng Wai-tung, community organiser of the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO), a non-governmental organisation that campaigns for the underprivileged.

SoCO estimates there are 1,200 street sleepers in Hong Kong. The organisation's study of 103 homeless people receiving no social welfare last year showed that nearly two thirds of them have secondary education and hold jobs.

They average 45 years of age, five years younger than the average in an earlier survey by SoCO in 1999.

"Young homeless people like Tony have had bruising experiences from a morass of personal, family and social problems," said Mr Ng, who contacted Mr Yeung a year ago and referred him to a shelter operated by the Salvation Army.

Even though they may secure full-time jobs, ever-increasing rents can easily drive them out onto the street, said Mr Ng. "They may be able to make ends meet this month but not the next," he added.

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