Homeless, But Beloved by Neighbors — an Immigrant Killed on the Streets Is Remembered


Manage episode 244681041 series 95357
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A public memorial service was held Friday for the homeless men who were killed on the streets of Chinatown earlier this month ⁠— including Chuen Kwok, an 83-year-old immigrant from Hong Kong who community members remember as kind and neighborly.

Kwok had been homeless for only the last few years, but he had been a fixture in Chinatown for decades before that. A Chinatown resident who identified herself as Auntie Yu met him 35 years ago over a game of mahjong.

After 35 years of friendship, he was like a relative to her, she said.

When she met him, Kwok was selling fish on the street and living with a woman in a Houston Street apartment. After the woman died around 20 years ago, he spent some time homeless and “wandering” in Brooklyn before a young Chinese man gave him restaurant work and helped him find a place to stay.

By a few years ago, he was once again homeless and out of work. He spent time in The Bowery Mission on Lafayette Street, as recently as this year.

For the past few months, according to Yu, Kwok slept in a small alcove in front of a storefront on Bowery Street, just steps from where Yu sold clothing on the sidewalk.

He would “go to the Chinese restaurant and read newspaper and drink some wine or alcohol, but [he wasn’t an] alcoholic,” Yu said through a translator, Luzy Tsui. He would “just drink some.”

A Chinatown resident who would only identify herself as Auntie Chan remembers that Kwok wouldn’t ask for money, but that the community looked out for him anyway.

“Even if he was sleeping, people would give him money,” Chan said through a translator, Luzy Tsui. “And then people would check if he was still alive.”

Choi Lin, another Chinatown resident, saw Kwok just weeks before he died. She asked him if he needed money, but he patted his pocket to tell her he had enough. He told Lin that he would be moving soon, so that he didn’t disrupt stores on the busy Bowery Street block.

But on the night of Oct. 5, Kwok was in his alcove when he became one of four victims killed while sleeping on the streets of Chinatown.

Because Kwok had told her he would move, Lin wasn’t sure whether it was him until she saw his picture in the press.

“She broke down in tears,” Tsui said.

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