POLITICS – The Heart-Warming Kindness of Hong Kong’s Heroes 9

Kind-hearted Hong Kongers are recognising that charity begins at home… Yesterday, the SCMP reported on the story of Benson Tsang who made a simple, personal protest against government inaction. He used his HK$6000 handout to buy food from local momma-and-poppa stores and distributed it amongst the needy. After posting about his efforts on Facebook, many others followed his example with ‘People’s Handouts’…

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His actions came months after a Food and Environmental Hygiene Department ‘clean-up operation’, which saw homeless people’s bedding, identity documents, phones and clothing confiscated and thrown away. Meanwhile, China Daily reported that deaths are so common amongst street sleepers that there is now an official procedure in place for disposing of ‘unclaimed’ bodies. In 2009, an unarmed Nepali homeless man was shot by police in Ho Man Tin.

These incidents prove that district councils are failing to treat the root causes of the problem. The Social Welfare Department stated in January that there are now 504 registered homeless people in HK.

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Benson – a proud Christian, activist and member of the LGBT community – has, in fact, been working with homeless people for over a year as part of an organisation called Equal Share. Members have been giving out food, clothes and chatting with street sleepers…

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Brothers’ Keeper is another local team effort founded by a priest, Timothy Lam Kwok-Cheung. Since February, they have been organising pairs of volunteers to sleep alongside frightened homeless people.

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Timothy and Benson’s actions and ideas went viral on Chinese social networks and there is now a Human Library project and a Hong Kong Hearts page chronicling reach-out activities across the city…

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Earlier in the year there was a toy distribution event in aid of the needy and even a hair dressing service…

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Benson’s next event is scheduled for next Friday (26th) with citizens invited to research independent stores and purchase 10 items to give to underprivledged people in their neighbourhoods. Over 6000 people were participating at the time of writing.

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Those at Occupy Central should take note.

Rising inequality
At a time of deep cuts and austerity measures in Europe and the US, booming Hong Kong is enjoying such a surplus that the government is offering personal HK$6000 bail-outs to all residents regardless of income. They are also subsidising electricity bills and allowing families in public housing free rent for 2 months.  However, despite producing more millionaires than any other country last year, HK also shares the more dubious accolade of ‘widest poverty gap in Asia’. According to the UN Gini Coefficient, which measures income inequality, Hong Kong society rates as the most unequal amongst all highly developed economies. The wealthiest 10 per cent of the populace control more than a third of the city’s income, whilst the bottom 10 per cent share only 2 per cent.

Our city features the world’s highest per capita ownership of Rolls-Royces – yet luxury cars are almost as common sight as the elderly people forced to rummage through bins in search of items they can sell to recyclers. With little in the way of welfare, these workers, mostly old women, have a median income of just US$40 per month and often labour throughout the intense summer heat.