Feature: Motivation for Change
Street Sleeper Boosts Self-assurance through Volunteering
Ah-Man has been part of “A.C.T.I.O.N.” Work Enhancement Volunteerism for over a year. He has helped grassroots families with home relocation for over 10 times already. “I’m so happy. Finally I’m determined to do something. I wouldn’t have put my heart into anything even if I were paid,” he said.
Ah-Man’s heartfelt efforts paid off and he regained his long lost self-confidence. He has got used to the label of a “beneficiary” after 10 years of sleeping on the street. He almost forgot that he also deserved an opportunity of assurance and recognition.
Years ago when he encountered financial difficulties and could not afford his rent, Ah-Man had dwelled in places such as parks, ferry piers and sports ground. “Once, when typhoon signal no.8 was raised, the ferry pier was so windy. I couldn’t sleep and there was nowhere to hide.” In the end, he could only shiver in the cold behind a pillar. As for food, he relied on the kind offer of the people or help from friends, or simply “rummaged food from garbage bags, washed and reheated it in a convenience store”. Buying food was a last resort.
Life might be tough, but Ah-Man insisted on tidiness. He always carried a bottle of shower gel and shampoo in his backpack. “I must shower at least once a day. It’s so dusty out there.” This is his dignity and bottom line. “People may wonder why I don’t rent a sub-divided unit with government subsidy. But they don’t know there are woodlice in many of those units.” He thought it was much cleaner to sleep on the street.
No Way Out
Having a shelter became a distant dream. Ah-Man only took on odd jobs like stage setting, but the earnings might still exceed the salary limit of public rental housing application for single persons. As it was hard to find a permanent job without a residential address proof, he could barely make ends meet. “I don’t have work every day throughout the month. Sometimes I worked a few days and was forced to rest for over a week before another work came. Everything like food and drink costs money. How much could I save? All things are so expensive nowadays. A few hundred dollars won’t last for many days.”
Ah-Man was eager but found it so hard to put an end to his days living from hand to mouth. “I don’t want to be helped. I don’t want to rely on others for everything. That’s why I tried to see if I could do it myself...but at last, I failed.“ Approaching 40, even though many people had been kind enough to offer help, Ah-Man started to think, “Am I going to spend the rest of my life just like this?” After some pondering, he finally sought help from The Salvation Army.
Since the end of 2015, Ah-Man has joined The Salvation Army “A.C.T.I.O.N.” Work Enhancement Volunteerism. Together with people of similar background, he helped grassroots families with home relocation and small-scale renovation works, including floor boarding and painting, for which the beneficiary families only need to pay a low renovation cost, while the workers may receive an allowance that helps them eke out a living.
During the course of volunteering, not only did Ah-Man make friends with a group of buddies, but he also learnt how to communicate and work with other people. “I used to go my own way without listening to others,” he reflected. “But working together means cooperation. We’ll never get the work done if everyone does things their own ways.” He was willing to consider the big picture, step back and avoid conflicts with others. Such cooperation did not just benefit the beneficiary families. Ah-Man came to realise that he was able to help other people. For a person who has been labeled “the disadvantaged” for a long time, this value of existence and sense of achievement are hard-won.
Now he is able to make a change for other people’s living environment. How about his own life?
In 2016, Ah-Man was determined to change his future. He first moved into The Salvation Army Yee On Hostel and started working as a temporary general assistant at The Salvation Army Integrated Service for Street Sleepers. He tried his best to cut expenses and make a saving of HK$4,000-6,000 per month with the Army’s support. “When I have to pay for rent or work elsewhere later, I also need to pay for transportation and meals. It’s better to save up more now.”
Ah-Man said that he has become more optimistic and proactive. He feels strange towards the places he used to sleep at, and he is never going back. Right now he has a clear goal, “The most important thing is to rent an individual room with no woodlice. That’ll be good enough.”
“A.C.T.I.O.N.” Work Enhancement Volunteerism
Street sleepers and ex-street sleepers form a team of volunteers and provide domestic cleansing, home relocation or small-scale renovation services to grassroots families after receiving relevant training. They will receive an allowance that helps them eke out a living. During the course of cooperation, the volunteers learn to communicate and support one another. Also, the sense of achievement gained through helping others boosts their self-confidence, enabling them to search for self-worth and the meaning of life.