CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 9 September 2017

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Employed but living in the street

HONG KONG (UCAN): Having a job in Hong Kong is no guarantee of any stability in life, as a significant number of people who are employed do not earn enough to rent shelter.
 
This is perhaps the most visual manifestation of the disparity in the distribution of wealth in the city, which new statistics show is still widening.
 
The numbers of the employed homeless is increasing, because the money they earn is just enough for food and other basics, with insufficient left for rental accommodation.
 
That the wealth gap is widening in the territory has been underscored by figures released by the Census and Statistics Department on the Gini Coefficient—an index measuring disparity in wealth distribution that in Hong Kong currently stands at a record high.
 
The richest 10 per cent of households—with a median monthly income of $112,450—earned 44 times more than the poorest 10 per cent, which has an average income of $2,560.
 
The Census and Statistics Department argues that the effects of taxation and social benefits should be considered.
 
Fifty-year-old Teresa said that she started doing business in China during the 1990s, but got into debt after falling victim to a heist and had to sell her apartment. The crippling rents she was paying for a decade eased when a friend leased her an apartment at $6,000 per month. She had previously been paying $20,000.
 
But in a period of five years, the $6,000 rent rose to $10,000 per month. Even to pay this amount, Teresa had to do three jobs to top up her husband’s salary to a level adequate to provide for her family of three.
 
Rent, daily expenses and transportation soaked up 70 per cent of the total family income. “No money was spare for saving,” Teresa explained.
 
After years of waiting, the family finally has public housing for about $2,000 a month and Teresa feels an incredible sense of relief.
 
She now delivers newspapers in the morning and takeaway food in the afternoon for a monthly salary of around $6,000. She believes that ordinary people’s earnings can never catch up with higher property prices.
 
She pointed out that even with the minimum hourly wage being increased by $2 to $34.50 in May this year, there is little difference, as it is still too low. “There is no hope for me to resume my previous standard of living and have my own home,” she said.
 
Earlier this year, Hong Kong ranked as the world’s least affordable city for buying a home for the seventh year running, according to the United States of America Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.
 
The survey studies 406 cities around the world and shows that in the third quarter of 2016, the cost of a flat in Hong Kong was 18.1 times the gross annual median income.
 
This means a family needed to save money for 18 years—without spending on anything else—to buy a flat. That figure was much higher than Sydney, which ranked second in the survey at a rate of 12.2.
 
Hong Kong government figures also show that the proportion of mortgage contributions in the first quarter of 2017 was as high as 66.1 per cent of median household income. In other words, two-thirds of household income was used to pay mortgages.
 
Bobo Yip Po-lam, a project officer at the Justice and Peace Commission in Hong Kong, is urging the government to prioritise disadvantaged groups.
 
She appealed directly to the new chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
 
“She should understand the spirit of faith and consider how to effectively allocate resources to better protect the needy,” she said.
 
Yip said that his includes simplifying applications for public rental housing and shortening the waiting time which currently stands at three to four years.
 
David Shum Tse-yeung, the president of the Vincent de Paul Society at St. Teresa’s in Kowloon, says that skyrocketing property prices have exacerbated the street sleeper homelessness syndrome.
 
He confirmed that there are people in employment who are still homeless.
 
Shum said that in the face of the widening wealth gap, it is important to bring love and the spirit of Christ to the poor to enable them to find the power to face life.

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