What? No Homeless Problem in Chinatown?

by Rev. Norman Fong

April 15, 2019

norman fong

It was exactly a year ago today, a member of my church found the body of a Chinese homeless man who was beaten to death in Joice Alley in front of Cameron House and close to Gordon J Lau School. It happened on a Sunday when all the kids of Gordon J Lau were not in school. I remember doing a memorial service in the alley for the homeless man (Aaron) with many of the neighbors who lived or worked in the alley. I brought flowers and taped them to the spot where he was found brutally killed in a cardboard box. It was so sad. On the one hand, we need to have compassion for the homeless but on the other hand, we have to deal with those who may cause harm to themselves and others.

memorial quang truong
Memorial for Quang Truong

Two months before Quang Truong (Aaron) – the homeless man was killed, I also remember that we had a community meeting on homelessness just two months before Aaron was killed where a city official said that we don’t have a homeless problem in Chinatown (implying that our neighborhood was not as bad as other neighborhoods). I was very upset after the meeting. WHAT? NO HOMELESS PROBLEM IN CHINATOWN? Over the past few years, it has gotten worse. A number of times I confronted a few homeless to stop screaming at our seniors in Portsmouth Square, at the same time, I remember talking for hours late at night to this poor old Chinese women who was sleeping on a Portsmouth Square bench and got her a blanket.

It’s been a rough year for Chinatown and we have complained so much about the homeless problem in Chinatown being ignored. Merchants too have complained about the homeless even stealing from the stores and WHY can’t the city do something about it? I know that we need to show loving concern for the homeless but we do need help to handle the homeless with care.

Recently, on April 5th, we finally got the attention of the City Departments to come and help us. You will now see representative from the police, Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing, Department of Public Works and new – the Department of Public Health to help us monitor Chinatown’s “Homeless”. At the community meeting held at the Buddhist Church, community representatives from Cameron House (where Aaron Truong was killed), the Chinese Historical Society, the Chinese Chamber, the Presbyterian Church in Chinatown, Chinatown CDC, a business merchant (who faces homeless every morning), the Lee family Association, Portsmouth Square Garage and the Buddhist Church leaders – (who see the homeless sleeping in front of their church almost every day)… we were told that action is coming now!

meeting on homelessness
Community meeting on April 5th

The City department representatives said they would come to Chinatown every day at different times for a few weeks to help us. They wanted our help and the community’s help to alert the city departments whenever they see a homeless person sleeping in our alleys, doorsteps, sidewalks… Commander Lazar said he has assigned two officers to deal with homelessness and to call 911 if there is an emergency and call 311 for non-emergencies. He said, (for those of you who know how to download a free 311 app on your phone), take a picture and send it to 311. They are NOW monitoring all the homeless reports 24/7 he said. The Department of Public Health and Department of Homelessness and Supportive Housing together have designated a team now to come every day to Chinatown during this 3 week period. Hopefully, we’ll see major improvements.

portsmouth square bench homeless

homeless portsmouth square

portsmouth square homeless

Tan Chow, one of the great staff at Chinatown CDC decided to take some pictures of Portsmouth Square last week just to show that there really are homeless in Chinatown. I hope he sent them to 311 for documentation, but just in case, I decided to write this article with his pictures – just to be safe. We need more affordable housing all over the city. We need more help to deal with the homeless who have mental issues. We need more collaboration between the city departments to help because just arresting the homeless doesn’t solve a thing and giving citations is ridiculous! It is not an easy problem to solve – but maybe this time – the city will not ignore Chinatown. We’ll see.

Originally published in Sing Tao Daily on April 14, 2019

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