Safeguarding the park

Rachel Chak & Gabriele de Seta, 17–08–2015, Interview Story

Mr. Wong. is a guard from Tung Chau Street Park, wearing his blue uniform shirt and holding a walkie-talkie in his hand, he walked toward us slowly in the park. He works for a company to which the government’s Recreation and Cultural department outsources the security of the park. He worked in the park for three years and the location of this job is convenient to him as it is very close to where he lives.

It’s about drugs

Mr. Wong says that it is very common for homeless people to sleep inside the park, as it is so close to a popular and very concentrated homeless area in Sham Shui Po. In the daytime, he has to keep the homeless people out of the park since the regulations do not allow people to sleep on the benches, but during the night time, it is a grey area: the Tung Chau Street homeless have been used to sleep there for a long time, so he doesn’t drive them out of the park during night time as long as they behave themselves.

From his observation, he thinks that around 80% of the homeless living under the bridge are drug addicts, while a little less of the ones living in the park are — maybe around 70%, he estimates. Mr. Wong has worked in the park for three years already, so he is confident he is able to differentiate between drug addicts and regular homeless from their appearance. The reason why he thinks that so many homeless living nearby use drugs is that there are a lot of drug dealers in Sham Shui Po, so that the Tung Chau Street homeless prefer to stay in the vicinities to acquire drugs conveniently.

All parties could do better together

Mr. Wong says that residents often complain about two problems caused by the homeless people in the park: hygiene, and drug use. Sometimes the homeless do not “behave themselves well” in the park, they pee around, smoke in non-smoking areas, or drop their pants to inject drugs inside the park. “Sometimes I call the police for help”, he narrates, “but they cannot do anything… they can only give warning to the homeless that misbehave, but they cannot arrest someone for drug use unless they find drugs on him, so it’s not so useful.”

“I don’t know much about how to solve the problem. Professionals should figure it out,” says Mr Wong. But then he offers his idea about how to make the situation better: “The Recreation and Cultural department, the police force, and social workers should work more together and do better, because they can’t do much when they are alone!”. Mr. Wong thinks that the relevant authorities can achieve very limited things by themselves, and that they should work together much more in order to solve the issue of the homeless in the district: the police could deal with the drug dealing in Sham Shui Po more efficiently, the Recreation and Cultural department could do better management of the park, and social workers could improve their counselling and relief efforts for the homeless.

Homeless welfare alone cannot solve the problem

When asked about the lunch boxes distributed to the homeless by different organizations, Mr. Wong explains: “I can’t say it’s bad or wrong because it’s a good thing, but it doesn’t help much solving the problem”. He also adds that the lunch box distribution creates a vicious cycle, attracting more homeless people in the area and encouraging people to stay there.

In general, anyway, Mr. Wong doesn’t have big issues with the homeless: he lets them sleep in the park, he quarrels two or three times a week with newcomers who don’t yet know the rules of well-behaving, but that’s just because of his job responsibilities. Otherwise, he wouldn’t particularly care about the homeless as long as they don’t impact his life and family.

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