The cold, the old and the ignored
Wednesday 12 January 2011, 4.56pm HKT
A FEW OF YOU have noticed that The Naked Listener has been doing a lot of speaking and a bit less on the listening.
abortion of a city called Hong Kong, we’ve been having some seriously cold weather lately. Srsly, this is global warming gone haywire. Serious business, I tell you.
The last three or four days have been cold even to a cold-weather person like me. Average temperatures hovered around 13ºC (55°F) in the daytime. Last night, it went down to 6ºC (43ºF), which is pretty serious here because our buildings are concrete all the way through and it gets mighty freezy. We’re not built for the cold here.
And so, I got thinking about the homeless and destitute (not just in Hong Kong, but all over the world), with cognac in hand, sitting in the comfort of my home with all the windows open (because I’m loopy enough to adore the cold).
Doing it the wrong way
The conduct of our government and social NGOs here is totally out of order when it comes to the needy. On the face of it, it does many things to help, and the things often fall into the ‘right’ category.
But the efforts are mostly disasters. Mostly an embarrassment. Mostly extremely insulting even to the mentally crippled. God-tiered FAIL.
Instead of The Streets of San Francisco, try the Street Sleepers of Hong Kong.
I’m not singling them out for special sympathy or treatment, just that it’s a good enough example to use here.
Homeless people sleep in the street. The reason is they’re homeless. Homeless means not having a home to live in. There are many reasons for their plight and their becoming homeless, but we won’t be distracted by niggling, inconvenient details, so long as we see they’re homeless.
In wintertime, the government and a flurry of social NGOs go and ‘help’ the homeless by delivering them blankets and groundsheets and/or mattresses, plus whatever else that’s needed.
That should be The Right Thing To Do.
Trouble is, in Hong Kong, it becomes The Wrong Thing Done. Things are increasingly done wrong here because there seems to be so little foresight on the part of the government and those social-welfare NGOs on how to get the help to those who need help.
What happens year after year is this: the cold comes in, temperatures plummet overnight, the homeless freeze out in the open, and blankets etc get delivered by well-meaning volunteers or social workers to these street sleepers a day or two afterwards.
And TV news crews are usually on hand to record the ‘help’ and make it to the first available news slot in the morning news.
This is exactly what George Clooney complains about when he spoke of the behaviour of humanitarian aid providers in Haiti:
“We’re either the first to help there or we won’t help at all.”
Srsly, this is serious business. This is seriously effed up.
The right way to go about things
Just how hard is it for the helpers to see problems are a-coming? It’s wintertime here, that’s an already known aspect. Weather forecasts aren’t exactly state secrets or rare assets for the use of by the privileged few. It’s no mystery to anyone here that temperatures below 15ºC spells trouble for street sleepers. Just how hard is this to see?
The right way to go about things is to start deliveries BEFORE temperatures really drop. The usual excuse runs along this line: don’t know when the temperatures will really drop — so unable to make that judgment call —just have to wait and see how things turn out.
Bollocks. Even an idiot with half a brain and cognac in hand know when temperatures will drop like mad literally days ahead.
Even if the temperature should never fall below 15 degrees (this winter or any other winter), the default action should be: DELIVER.
Noooo, this is too much of a logistic(al) headache for these helpers. By the time the worst sets in and passed, like the Ten Plagues of Egypt, only then will the help appear.
Meantime, the street sleepers freeze their balls (or tits) off in this concrete town. Dead leaves do not cover the ground because concrete jungles don’t have leaves because there are no trees because it spoils the view for astronomically high-priced real estate because people paid wads of money not to be distracted by natural distractions like leaves.
Just freeze your arse off until warm weather returns.
Even better way to do The Right Thing
It really isn’t that effing hard to help the homeless. Srsly.
The government itself owns loads of facilities around various districts that currently stand empty. Many of those facilities were once used as holding areas (read: detention centres, concentration camps) for illegal aliens and Vietnamese refugees back in the 1970s and 1980s. These facilities have been furloughed for well nigh on 10 years or more.
As to the NGOs, many own facilities that also stand idle — but we’ll discount the NGOs facilities-wise because they’re sort of officially broke most of the time, even if they’re not actually so.
Let’s make it simple so the government and the NGOs have a fighting chance to absorb this earth-shattering setup:
1. Open up the damn facilities during wintertime regardless of the prevailing temperature. If you have to wait for temperatures to drop to some cutoff, it’ll be too damn late for those in need.
2. Social workers and NGO volunteers go around town and tell/get/cajole/[choose the words you like best] the street sleepers to check into those facilities: warm place to sleep, hot meals, hot showers, social-welfare follow-up, etc.
3. If persuasion fails, try the long arm of the law. Get the police to ‘require’ street sleepers to go to the facilities when the temperature gets quite bad. Don’t make it sound like it’s a crime. Just say they’re ‘required’ to be in those facilities until the worst has passed. Get the Black Marias ready to ferry them to the facilities. Done!
Comment: This sounds ghastly vis à vis human rights. But we’re potentially saving lives here, so effing lawyers (like yours truly here) are going to have a hard time explaining how that detracts from human rights. We’re not throwing them into gaol (BrE) / jail (AmE) — we’re chucking them into hot baths, hot meals and a warm bed.
Corollary: The job of the police is meant to go beyond fighting crime. Getting street sleepers into shelter facilities IS part of crime prevention. Street sleepers get into all sorts of trouble at the hands of others. This is crime prevention. Any policeman who disagrees, consider another line of work. We taxpayers are paying you folks HK$18,000 to HK$25,000 a pop every month, and you have the nerve to say this isn’t part of your ‘duties.’ Not informing the social welfare services about street sleepers is already a dereliction of your basic duties to maintain law and ORDER.
4. As a last resort, police or social workers (or both) tell street sleepers they have no rights until they check into shelters. Once in, give them all the rights they have.
The first real reason behind the behaviour
The government knows it’s easier, quicker and better to ferry the homeless into shelters than logisticking materiel to them.
Truth is, it’s also chickenshite scared about the cost.
Government accountants tend to be crap accountants. Good accountants with expertise and talent just don’t want to work in the public sector. Budgeting for costs tend to reduplicate because each government department, subdepartments, etc, runs on its own budget — which is why government expenditure for even a puny undertaking tends to run literally into millions of dollars. Somebody somewhere is making a living off of the humanitarian aid.
What they didn’t teach you in that Economics 101 class you slept through in college is this: In a laissez-faire economy like Hong Kong, ‘cost’ goes against the basic tenets of a capitalistic free economy. Cost interferes with a free economy because it sets up obligations between parties. Obligations require planning and control, ergo, unfree situation.
So, because of cost (or on the strength of cost forecasts), the powers-that-be turn a blind eye to the homeless because helping the needy is a cost issue at the technical level and against free-market tenets at the philosophical level. Result? We should maintain the highest degree of freedom in our activities, so we’re free not to help and free to maintain such a cold-blooded attitude.
Hong Kong is not laissez-faire; it’s lazy-faggot.
The second real reason behind the behaviour
Why waste literally millions of dollars winter after winter on delivering blankets, mattresses, etc, to the homeless when it’s easier, cheaper, faster and better to deliver the homeless to shelters? This is a very doable thing. It’s doesn’t break the bank. It gets the help directly to those who need it. You’re simply reconfiguring your logistics from ferrying inanimate objects to ferrying animate human beings.
The real reason why the government and the NGOs are not helping properly is that they (knowingly or otherwise) like to go through the motions of helping others. It’s like praying: you have the appearance of doing something when you’re actually doing jack shite to help.
This is the same kind of behaviour seen in those charities that give out abject packets of rice to the elderly every year, typically resulting in a mad scramble for the rice by the recipients year after year, with woefully embarrassing TV coverage to boot.
Regardless of blankets or rice or eye surgeries or whatever, the people and organisations behind the aid make the handouts not because they want to actually help but, rather, to give themselves the philosophical comfort that they have given help, that the help so given sort of guarantees their respective selves a place in humanitarian heaven — that they have carried out an obligation in some sort of heavenly to-do list. Help and save others, even if you don’t like it.
It’s just back to George Clooney’s Haitian complaint (above).
Beautiful, just effing beautiful.
You just don’t earn brownie points that way.
This kind of help-even-if-you-hate-it attitude cuts right across the religious and humanitarian spectra here — from Christians to Muslims, from Buddhists to animists. But, then again, maybe I’m blind and stupid, or both, to see things that way.
As for myself, I do my best to help in my own small way. I offer my help not because it makes me feel special or important or to earn brownie points with heaven or hell. The needy shouldn’t have to suffer. Like I said in my About me page:
“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”
But I also have a caveat for you to dwell on while you slip into slumber in your warm bed:
“If you tolerate this, your children will be next.” – English proverb
© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2011.
Image: Oracle Thinkquest (pilfered and used without permission)