Between the turkey and the trimmings, impactHK’s Jeff Rotmeyer is making sure Hong Kong’s homeless don’t miss out this Christmas.
Canadian school teacher Jeff Rotmeyer is slowly but surely making a difference to Hong Kong’s homeless community.
His humble contribution, in the form of food and clothing distributed on “homeless handout” evenings, show just what can be achieved through a very simple act and a lot of motivation.
Having recently taken part in a TEDx Hong Kong presentation, Rotmeyer finds a moment in his packed schedule to catch up with me one lunchtime.
An English teacher in the local school system by day, his evenings and spare time are filled with plans for not one, but two charitable associations – impactHK to support the homeless, and the Love 21 Foundation for Down Syndrome children – both of which are now in the final stages of receiving the final stamp of approval for registered charity status.
“The origins of impactHK are pretty simple,” he explains. “I wanted to reach out to refugees with a sporting programme. So I contacted a few charities, rented a pitch and asked around from some of my contacts for kit and boots. It was that straightforward.”
Post-university in Vancouver, Rotmeyer had enjoyed a similar experience using sport and friendship to reach out to youth at risk. “Again, it was a very simple concept. We played basketball and built connections. Sometimes when you’re having problems, all you need is empathy, just a friend to lend a hand.”
After one such football match, he was approached by a local charity and asked if he would do the same thing for Down Syndrome children.
And so, for the last nine years, he has been playing football every weekend with a group of Down Syndrome kids.
“Which has been such a fantastic experience. But a couple of years ago I thought, hey, maybe I could be doing a bit more,” says Rotmeyer.
This lead to a blog. “It was tough work getting it moving,” he admits. “Of course my mum was a big fan. But the stats were still pretty depressing, no matter which way I looked at them. And then a couple of blogs about my charity work really seemed to strike a chord, so I thought maybe this was the way to go.”
Rotmeyer got in contact with a friend who was trying to help the homeless in Sham Shui Po, and the pair basically went out, bought some food and handed it around. “Again, there was nothing complicated about it,” he says.
On the back of this, he created impactHK, an “organic, humanitarian movement where I just got together with some mates, and we went out and handed out some food.”
The group grew, so he added more handouts per month, and then it grew some more, so he added some more locations. The group of over 400 volunteers now delivers food multiple times a month to the homeless in Happy Valley, Jordan, Fortress Hill, North Point, Sai Wan Ho, Kwun Tong, as well as Sham Shui Po.
“We ask volunteers to bring $100 to spend on food in the local supermarket, and a disposable bag, and then we walk around and hand it out.” He is also forging relationships with local restaurants with a view to providing homeless locals with a number of meal vouchers each month.
Kindness Walks have also been added into the mix, which involve wandering from Tin Hau to North Point handing out unsold goods from local bread-maker Passion Bakery along with Park ‘n’ Shop vouchers.
Recipients include the homeless, elderly and local workers on the bread-line. There is limited pension provision in Hong Kong, and some of the territory’s elderly will be soldiering on collecting rubbish, sweeping streets or packing recycled bits of cardboard until they drop.
Not only the homeless, handouts are also made to Hong Kong’s largely unseen cage dwellers and rooftop communities.
And asylum seekers that tend to slip between the cracks completely are also remembered. With no right to social welfare or a work visa, they are more often than not homeless and penniless and completely reliant on handouts. Refugees make up around 60% of Hong Kong’s homeless.
“These situations are pretty embarrassing for Hong Kong,” Rotmeyer remarks.
Another useful thought is a free laundry service – Rotmeyer believes he is the only charity to be doing this in Hong Kong.
Not content with all of this, he is also currently working on a job creation programme for the homeless in partnership with SoCo, which he has named The Second Coat Painting Co.
“I believe you need multiple connections to overcome something like poverty. So I’m trying to connect people with a job opportunity, with a home and with friendship.”
The jobs he hopes will come via volunteer painting and decorating professionals who will train up individuals and then provide them with work painting residential and commercial properties. Trainees can then progress, with the aim of ultimately being employed by an external company. Rotmeyer has already teed up with a good quality paint company and hopes to see his plans come to fruition shortly.
In terms of a home, Rotmeyer is hoping to rent out subdivided apartments for the apprentice painters, which can be decorated themselves.
And for friendship, he is hoping volunteers will continue to step forward with clothing, food and monetary donations.
“I want to spoil them,” he says. “At some point, something in their lives has gone very badly wrong, which is why they are in this situation. I want to give them the optimism to get back out there and flourish.”
Calling all knitters
Kindness Mats can make a heap of difference to those sleeping rough. These clever creations are crocheted together using old plastic bags, but they take a while to put together. impactHK is on the look-out for crocheters and knitters with some spare time to help out. Message Facebook page The Guest Room or www.theguestroom.org for more details.