-lessness & nonproblems

Gabriele de Seta, 16–08–15, Urban Nomads, Reflection

Directions to the Tung Chau Street market, Sham Shui Po (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

We started our walk by avoiding the homeless shacks on the side of the Tung Chau Street market and we moved past the barrier separating them from the Tung Chau Street park. Besides asking the homeless about themselves, we thought, it could be also interesting to collect some voices from the local community, and discover how they are seen by the people living their lives around them. Right after the entrance of the park, the top of the shacks was still visible over the fence, but the homeless were not, and people strolling or sitting in the park were free to comment or talk about them as they pleased, with quick hand gestures pointing towards the area under the highway flyover.

“I don’t care about them, I live in Shatin…” (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

“I don’t care about them, I live in Shatin, I just come here for work,” said the first park visitor we asked about the homeless population in Sham Shui Po. Another old man, who lives in Mong Kok and walks all the way to the park everyday to visit his children who live in the area, expressed a similar lack of concern: “Sometimes they smoke cigarettes or do drugs inside the park, but that doesn’t bother me. I just sit here and listen to music, sometimes they come and talk to me, or ask for some money, but they just want a few dollars, and actually they stopped when they noticed that I come here everyday.”

A local community center provides many forms of support to local residents. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Most of the other people we talked to on the day shared similar opinions: that the Tung Chau St. homeless did not particularly bother them, and that they were not a problem for the local community, but rather a bunch of people who were there mostly as a result of their own choices and problems. Our group sets out to investigate the situation of the homeless in Sham Shui Po. But are they the problem? Local residents don’t seem to look at them in this way, local social work associations help them survive, the local community center and other charity organizations provide them relief services, and even the Tung Chau Street park guards let them sleep in the park at night, as long as they behave themselves. So how should we deal with a nonproblem, something that is not evidently a problem for the local community? Where are the wicked problems linked to homeless people in Sham Shui Po? According to what other groups have shared, the problems might be behind many of the stories of these people: drug use, failed social welfare, complex histories of crime and migration.

An elderly man sits inside a temporary residence provided by a local Catholic charity. (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Another of our reflections on our day of wandering around the park and public housing estates was about the idea of homelessness: as highlighted by many interviewees, the people living under the Tung Chau Street flyover have very different personal histories that led them there: “they are just lazy, they sit there all day”, “maybe because their houses are too small, or something like that, and the weather is better outside”, “this guy actually obtained a public housing apartment but just put his dogs there, and keeps living here because it’s more convenient”, “they buy drugs nearby, and they build those shacks to do drugs inside, that’s also why they stay in this area”, “it’s a gray area, the police sometimes comes but can’t do much” — these are just some of the explanations that we collected from discussions.

A bakery near the Tung Chau Street market provides free bread to the homeless.

Some of the people under the Tung Chau Street flyover are definitely homeless, but for some of them not having a home might not be the main problem. For some it could be the lack of social support in solving family issues, for others the difficult access to health assistance, for others the need to deal with bureaucratic processes that might make their lives much better. Our first impression is that homelessness cannot be seen as the problem, but as the symptom: living on the streets is the last solution left to a group of people with different problems, or different kinds of -lessness, of lacking something. We should look for wicked problems behind these different forms of -lessness.

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