Fung was introduced to the place by a friend. Without any objections from other street sleepers, he joined the community.
While Fung admits that some street sleepers are quiet and unwilling to say much about themselves, some of them are talkative. A woman, known to the community as Man Nui is not a street sleeper but has befriended them. She considers herself a member of the Jade Market street sleepers’ community.
“Admittedly Sham Shui Po is a slum,” Man Nui says, “but I am not afraid as I grew up here.” Man Nui goes to a nearby clinic for her arthritis twice a week and dropping by and chatting with the street sleepers on her way there has become part of her routine.
She lives in a public estate nearby and cares for her brother who has suffered a stroke. Man Nui is distressed by the changes in her beloved Sham Shui Po over the years. She cherishes the memories of the old estates, now demolished.
“We occupied the corridor with our beds and snoozed with our doors wide open. In the new estates, even when you greet people they will just ignore you,” she sighs.
She is not the only one to recognise the sense of community here. “They stay together and help each other in some ways,” says Nisu Sou Lai-sim, a volunteer from Equal Share Action. “Therefore some of them cannot get used to the environment after they are granted a public estate flat. They cannot build the bonds they had with their neighbours as they could on the street.”
Sou says society marginalises the street sleepers. The government excludes them in urban planning and legislators do not show them any support since most of them do not have a vote because they have no fixed address.
The Equal Share Action was founded in October last year and became better known after an abrupt clean-up operation in Tung Chau Street on February 15 this year, a joint action by the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department, the Home Affairs Bureau, and the police. The officials cleared the area by confiscating street sleepers’ mattresses and belongings.
With the help of social workers, 19 of the victims took legal action and sued they government for HK$3,000 each for property they said was unlawfully confiscated, including identity cards, travel permits and bank books.
On November 6, the government agreed to pay them HK$2,000 each but stopped short of apologising. Most of those involved welcomed the judgement but some of the other street-sleepers had reservations about bringing the case in the first place.
Chu, who used to live with the cluster of street sleepers in front of the Jade Market but has now moved onto the footbridge across Yen Chow Street West says the case will bring nothing but trouble.
A government win would have meant the disposal of their property was justified, he says. While a victory for the street-sleepers could create chaos as others may also sue.
Among the homeless on the footbridge, Chu is known as the “captain”. He helps direct volunteers to the footbridge when they distribute food and clothes to the street sleepers near the Jade Market because those on the footbridge are sometimes overlooked. “Besides, I will wake my neighbours up to share the food given by the volunteers,” Chu says.
This is how Chu came to be regarded as the “captain” of the area. Even though he no longer sleeps in front of the Jade Market, street sleepers there also show him respect.
Uncle Fai, a homeless man who sleeps in front of the market says: “He really takes good care of the place. He has good order. He does not allow theft. Otherwise he will beat us up. The place is very clean in his hands.”