CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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A half-way house in Cheung Chau

HONG KONG (SE): A constant visitor to the prisons of Hong Kong, Father John Wotherspoon, has become the inspiration behind the opening of the Mercy Centre, a half-way house for people who have been released from prison and facing difficulties in reestablishing themselves in society.
The Australian Oblate of Mary Immaculate priest is a well-known personality among the non-Chinese prison population of Hong Kong and has been a constant campaigner for foreign prisoners, most of whom he says have been convicted of smuggling drugs.
He maintains that the Hong Kong system of handing out stiff jail sentences is not the real answer to the problem, and he has conducted campaigns together with local Churches and media in Latin America, Tanzania and other parts of Africa, to spread the word among potential drug mules that their chances of getting through undetected in Hong Kong are only about 50-50.
Father Wotherspoon maintains that for the bulk of them their real agenda is not to get drugs into Hong Kong, but to do something to alleviate the poverty of their families back home.
“Their big crime is being poor,” he often says.
He is also highly aware of the need for a safe environment for all people when they are first released from prison and the opening of a shelter in the quiet and solitude of Cheung Chau was described as answering a real need by Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming at the opening ceremony on September 30.
Known as the Mercy Centre, it is distant from the alluring atmosphere of the city that may intoxicate recently-released prisoners, as well as providing moral and psychological support in the difficult task of readjusting to what can be a new life in a changed society.
Support is also available in the process of searching for suitable work and helping people to settle back into what can be a hostile environment.
A two-storey village house, which also features an open roof, has been rented and it can allow for a maximum accommodation of nine people.
Three men had been accepted for residence by the opening day.
Lucia Leung Mei-ling is an assistant in the operation of the hostel.
She told the Kung Kao Po that many people urgently need accommodation after they are released from prison, as many families are not prepared to accept them back into their homes.
Leung described the time immediately after release as critical, as it is then that they are most in need of support and encouragement, as many have lost everything during their time behind bars.
She strongly believes that support for people with nowhere to go is highly significant, as with the right assistance, some can find a job and solve their own accommodation problems.
She spoke of one person who had been sleeping in a fast food outlet every night for nine years, who has now been accepted by the Mercy Centre.
Besides the male hostel in Cheung Chau, Mercy Hong Kong has rented five subdivided flats in Temple Street and Jordon Road in Kowloon to help women and families with accommodation problems.
Mercy Hong Kong is in the process of registering itself as a charity, but the half-way house was set up by Father Wotherspoon in April this year with the purpose of offering a helping hand to the homeless, people who have done time in prison, refugees and others in need.

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