The temperature was low, but spirits were high on Saturday night at Central’s AIA Vitality Park, where two Young Post junior reporters joined the crowds fighting homelessness at the World’s Big Sleep Out.
The global event, which raises awareness and money to help homeless people around the world, brought together people in more than 50 cities to sleep outdoors for one night in solidarity with the homeless.
It may come as a surprise to some that homelessness is a pressing issue in Hong Kong. Many of the city’s homeless people are out of sight during the day, hiding beneath overhead bridges or in underground passageways – which is why it is so important to bring light to the problem.
While the social Welfare Department lists 1,127 registered homeless people in 2017-2018, the actual number could be much higher. And because of high rent prices and the lack of employment in the city, the homeless population in Hong Kong is only growing bigger.
The Hong Kong event was hosted by ImpactHK, a local charity which provides food, housing and employment for homeless individuals in the city. Jeff Rotmeyer, the charity’s founder, spoke to Young Post about how the proceeds from the event would be used, with 50 per cent going to ImpactHK.
“Most of our funding really goes to employing the homeless,” Rotmeyer explained. However, he recognises that employment itself is not enough to help the them.
“Genuine friendship is [ImpactHK’s] greatest focus.”
Not only does the event fight homelessness with financial support, but also serves as a place where like-minded, kind-hearted people could meet.
“[When] you step into the event, you see a bunch of people coming who’ve come together with a priority in their lives – and that’s to care for people, to fight for people, to stand up for people,” Rotmeyer said.
“And whenever you bring together people who care, great things happen.”
Supporting her dad at the event was Rotmeyer’s nine-year-old daughter, Ella Rotmeyer. The Quarry Bay School student is keen for more young people to lend their support to the cause.
“We can go on kindness walks with my dad’s centre, ImpactHK” she said.
Kindness walks welcome people of all ages; they help to build friendship and trust between the homeless community and volunteers who distribute necessities to them.
Seventeen-year-old Anthony Montajes, from Island School, joined the Sleep Out with a group of his friends. When asked whether he had been aware of Hong Kong’ homeless problem before the event, he replied that “there was certainly an indication of it, but I wasn’t aware of the extent of it”.
He added he would also definitely do more for the homeless community after the Big Sleep Out.
The MC of the night, Hong Kong comedian Vivek Mahbubani, also suggested ways people could help, but said the key to addressing homelessness was a change in public attitudes.
“First of all, know that [the homeless] are there. A lot of times you walk by and you don’t even notice [them],” Manbubani expresses.
“Think about what is causing this to be an issue in the first place, and think about what you can do as a person [to help].
“I’m not expecting you to have a new neighbour or a flatmate, but maybe go say hi to them, [and] see if there’s anything they need ... Just a small gesture like that [really helps].”
The Big Sleep Out Hong Kong was a clear success, with a huge turnout of participants who spent the night showing their support for the admirable cause. However, participants were reminded that sleeping outdoors for one night does not come close to the struggles homeless people go through each day.
As Jeff Rotmeyer put it, “We’re going to sleep out here and try to open our eyes a little bit, but we could never, ever, understand what it’s like to be homeless. It’s important that we first understand that – then can we help the homeless.”