Lai Jeh, a rough sleeper in her 70s, was carrying two heavy sacks on her shoulder as she left a temporary cold weather shelter in Yau Ma Tei on Wednesday afternoon. She was in no mood to celebrate Lunar New Year and had to urgently find a place to keep warm in the chilly weather.
“I stayed there last night, but I don’t know if it will be open tonight,” she said.
Lai Jeh, who preferred to be identified by her nickname, spent the nights during the Lunar New Year holiday at a mini storage unit in Tai Po, which she had rented cheaply for her belongings. But with the cold weather warning issued on Tuesday, she had found it unbearable to stay there.
Hongkongers will be bundling up as temperatures dip to lows of 9 degrees Celsius (48 degrees Fahrenheit) on Friday and Saturday and 11C (52F) on Sunday. Highs will reach just 17C (63F) on Friday and 15C (59F) on Saturday and Sunday.
Hong Kong’s most vulnerable braced themselves for the cold weather, seeking protection at temporary shelters without any Lunar New Year celebrations.
But Leung had to leave the shelter for an hour in the afternoon, as it was closed from 4pm to 5pm. He had to wait in the lobby of the community centre before his destination was confirmed for the night.
Law Chi-wo, a 51-year-old rough sleeper who also took refuge at the Yau Ma Tei shelter on Tuesday, had mixed cuts with rice for dinner and lunch.
“That tasted good, the quilts were warm too. But I couldn’t sleep very well at night. It was too noisy,” Law said.
A homeless man who gave his name as Giovanni said he saw an improvement in the quality of provisions at the temporary shelter in Wan Chai Activities Centre.
“It used to be very dirty, but there are mattresses and quilts now. It’s a lot better now, [my] basic human rights are fulfilled,” the 42-year-old said.
For the city’s homeless, festive holidays can catch the homeless off guard.
“For the homeless, holidays result in some areas in tourist-heavy districts to be unavailable until after 11pm,” said Ng Wai-tung, a community organiser at the Society for Community Organisation.
“Holidays and weekends aren’t something they pay attention to, as they don’t plan ahead and some might not have watches or phones to tell the time.”
Ng added that the lack of security provisions, such as lockers, also dissuaded rough sleepers, who were worried about their belongings being stolen.
“The reason why temporary shelters are unattractive to the homeless is because they do not open until 4.30pm on the day [the cold weather warning goes up], and there is no guarantee if the shelter will be open the day after,” Ng said, adding that occupants would have to leave the venue by 8am if the cold weather signal was dropped in the morning.
“Festivities aren’t good news for the homeless.”