People Stories

Sports & Culture

A fitness space for the homeless

For years, Eppie had been suffering from chronic back pain. That began to change recently after she took up sports in a big way. Having tried karate, basketball and running, she fell in love with boxing. Every time she goes training, the concentration required gives her a tangible lift. "Boxing is a great way to work up a sweat, calm the mind and take the focus off the pain," Eppie said.

For several years, Eppie, who is in her 50s, was living on the streets, sleeping on footbridges and in parks. Two years ago, she came into contact with ImpactHK, a non-profit organization that serves the homeless. It was an important encounter that would go on to have a big impact on her personality. Previously averse to seeking help from others and typically on her own, Eppie has gradually become more sociable. She has now even made it a daily routine to go to do exercise and meet her friends at the ImpactHK sports and recreation space.

The loss of a stable home is invariably followed by poor health and insecurity.

This is a condition that Jeff Rotmeyer, a Canadian who has been living in Hong Kong for more than 10 years, has acutely observed. In 2017, he founded ImpactHK to try to make a difference. Over the past few years, he has been serving the homeless in Kowloon, providing services such as meals, accommodation and job-seeking support. He hopes that, with the empathy and support of social workers, the homeless can regain a sense of security and rediscover their goals and hopes in life. In September 2021, ImpactHK received a donation from The Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust to set up a sports and recreation space. In addition, it launched the Jockey Club ImpactHK Sports & Health Programme, a three-year initiative which will provide regular body checks and structured sports classes for the homeless.

The ImpactHK space effectively doubles up as a social spot for the homeless. Gradually, they have developed a sense of belonging to the place, according to the social worker in charge. Today, Eppie lives in an ImpactHK hostel and works part-time as a community organizer at the group’s space every day. Naturally, she has become an ambassador for ImpactHK’s sporting activities among her street friends. "I can feel the gradual improvements in my personality and temperament. Now I can have a goal again for the future," Eppie said.

Did you know?

The homeless includes not only street sleepers, but also people who have lost their families as well as those temporarily living in hostels or short stay accommodation run by the government. In the past, there were no comprehensive statistics on the homeless population in Hong Kong, with the closest figures being those social welfare groups registered with the authorities in the course of their work with street sleepers.

In October 2021, seven groups including the Yunus Social Business Centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the Society for Community Organization and ImpactHK published the Hong Kong Homeless Census 2021, which put the number of people experiencing homelessness in the city at 1,532. Given time and manpower constraints, the groups added, however, that the actual number of homeless may be higher than what their census found.