‘For our family, To Kwa Wan Ha Heung Road is a paradise on earth.’ Although Coco, one of the participants of The Salvation Army ‘Community Housing Movement – To Kwa Wan Project’ (Home Plus) (referred below as ‘Home Plus’), has successfully applied for public housing during herstay in ‘Home Plus’ and moved into a new flat at the end of 2020, she still keeps wonderful memory of ‘Home Plus’. A smile shows on her face every time she talks about those days, for she never forgets the mutual support and warm kindness among the neighbours.

The suffocating subdivided flat

Few years ago, the pregnant Coco came to Hong Kong with her 2-year old son and her aged father. She had just separated with her husband at that time and moved to Sham Shui Po area with her family as the rent there was lower. It was a room of only 150 square feet. The kitchen and toilet area was so cramped that Coco needed to put her son standing on the toilet lid so that she could have enough space to wash him and get him dressed. After the birth of the baby sister, it became difficult for them to even move in the room. The cross beam and column of the room further reduced the space; they had to curl up to sleep and it was particularly difficult for her ill-health father. Above all, the biggest problem was the poor hygiene condition. Foul smell came from the toilet and would not go no matter how many times they flushed. On the days when there was no toilet water, the foul smell was so strong that it was hardly bearable for the four of them.

The helping hand from the Army

The poor living environment and her own low education level became Coco’s complex, making her feel inferior to all others. Every time she went out, with her daughter on her back, to send her son to school and pick him up, she would rush home afterwards to avoid any personal interaction. Her behaviour caught the attention of one of the parents, who then approached her and suggested that she could seek help from The Salvation Army after learning about her situation. At the end, Coco found the Army’s Shamshuipo Family Support Networking Team.

The social workers in the Networking Team are enthusiastic, they paid regular visits to Coco and her family and help them to apply for various supplies and subsidies such as food pack. ‘Later (in 2018), when the Ha Heung Road Project was open for grassroots families to apply, Networking Team asked if I was interested but I hesitated. I just got familiar with the area I was living in, and moving to another area sounded unsettling. But the social worker said I would first go to see the place before making any decision, so we all went to have a look. When the door opened, wow! We were wide-eyed with surprise! I have never seen a place so spacious and cosy.’ Her son loved the Ha Heung Road flat so they applied for it, and the whole family was over the moon when they knew the application was successful.

A paradise where everyone helps each other

Coco’s family is one the first tenants of ‘Home Plus’ building. With bigger living space and better hygiene condition , their living quality improved greatly. Coco’s father could finally lie well on bed without curling his body to sleep. The whole family was more relaxed both emotionally and physically. To allow the occupants to get familiar with each other and better integrate into the community, the social workers of the Project held various activities regularly, such as meal gatherings, movie nights and outdoor guided tours. Through these activities, Coco made friends with many neighbours. They shared with each other their latest news and exchanged supplies and goods. ‘Everyone was tremendously nice and warm; once a couple has given my children some shoes. My son and I miss everyone a lot and we miss the activities the social workers organised. In one Christmas we went to Cattle Depot Artist Village for treasure hunt, it was the first time we visited the place.’ During the days in ‘Home Plus’, she joined the Kowloon City Corps (Church) and started building faith. Major Ma, pastor of the Corps, has been caring for them.

‘For us, “Home Plus” is a paradise. The connections among the neighbours were strong and warm. Everyone was like sibling and we talked about everything. My son has made many friends and we were much happier. Many tiny things in those days are memorable. Now, even we have been living in the new place for some time, we can still feel some distance between neighbours,’ Coco said. ‘I am really grateful for the help from the Army over all these years. They gave us a helping hand when we needed it the most and continue helping us; I don’t know what we were going to do without them.’

Living with dignity and building the neighbourly culture

In 2018, ‘Home Plus’, with the idea ‘co-living and co-management’, provided proper housing space at lower-than-average rent for grassroots families to help them live with more dignity. So far around twenty tenants, including Coco’s family, have successfully made the transition during their stay in ‘Home Plus’ and were allocated public housing. Today, there are continuous arrangements to arrange new tenants to move in for short-term residency.

According to Kei, one of the social workers of the Project, many grassroots families like Coco’s are facing issues like cramped living space, poor hygiene and high rent, among which the biggest issue is tensed mental state, strong sense of loneliness and alienation from society. ‘The project has been holding regular social activities to strengthen the connections among the tenants. We facilitated coordination among them and guided them to handle the building management on their own, with the aim to increase their sense of belonging. We also wanted to give them opportunities to contribute to the community by inviting them to be volunteers to help repairing electric appliances, giving yoga and juggling lessons. Further, the tenants had established a helping network among each other, like babysitting for one another.’

With the Project coming to an end later this year, the Project team will keep their work of helping tenants to apply for public housing and following up their housing application status, at the same time will help other tenants to prepare their leaving and work on matching some current tenants up with other new places to see if it is possible for them to co-live again.

There will be an upcoming community housing project from The Salvation Army, you may learn more about our work in community housing in:https://salvationarmy.org.hk/support-us/appeal-and-fundraising/?lang=en

More stories: https://salvationarmy.org.hk/information-centre/publications/army-scene/