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Living in Cages: The Plight of Hong Kong’s Poor

hong kong cage homes

Photo by shankar s. via Flickr

Hong Kong is one of the most prosperous and densely populated cities in the world, but it also has a dark side: a housing crisis that forces hundreds of thousands of people to live in cramped and squalid conditions. These people are the residents of the so-called “cage homes,” tiny spaces that barely fit a bed and a few belongings, often stacked on top of each other in dilapidated buildings. They are the hidden face of a city that boasts of its skyscrapers, luxury malls, and financial hub status.

What are cage homes?

Cage homes are subdivided apartments which can only fit the very basics. Usually, it’s a bed and some clothing, with some of these units smaller than a jail cell. Typically, these spaces are less than 100 square feet, only slightly larger than jail cells. They’re also referred to as “bedspace apartments” and “coffin houses,” since they are made of wooden boards instead of metal.

Cage homes were first built for single men coming from mainland China during the 1950s. As poverty increased and housing supply became more and more scarce, the demand for these tiny homes grew. Today, they are home to a diverse group of over 200,000 people including the elderly, disabled, unemployed, migrant workers, and even families with children.

Why do people live in cage homes?

The main reason people live in cage homes is the lack of affordable housing in Hong Kong. The city has one of the highest property prices in the world, with an average price per square foot of $2,091 USD. This means that buying or renting a decent-sized apartment is out of reach for many low-income earners.

The government provides public housing for eligible applicants, but the waiting time is long and the supply is limited. According to the latest figures, there are over 100,000 applicants on the waiting list, with an average waiting time of over 5 years. Some people resort to cage homes as a temporary solution, while others have no choice but to stay for years.

Another reason people end up living in cage homes is the lack of social support and welfare. Many cage home residents are marginalized and stigmatized by society, facing discrimination and isolation. They often lack access to basic services such as health care, education and legal aid. Some of them suffer from mental health problems, substance abuse or domestic violence. They have little hope for improving their situation or escaping their poverty.

What are the challenges and risks of living in cage homes?

There are many risks with this sort of lifestyle, one being a hazardous living environment. Cage homes are often overcrowded, unhygienic and unsafe. They have inadequate ventilation, lighting and sanitation facilities. They are prone to fire hazards, pest infestations, and structural problems. They also expose the residents to noise pollution, air pollution and infectious diseases.

Another challenge is the lack of privacy and dignity. Cage home residents have to share their limited space with strangers, sometimes up to 30 people in one room. They have no personal space or security for their belongings. They have to endure the constant intrusion and interference of their neighbors and landlords. They have no control over their living conditions or choices.

A third challenge is the psychological and emotional impact. Living in cage homes can cause stress, depression, anxiety, anger, frustration and low self-esteem. It can also affect the residents’ social relationships and identity. They may feel ashamed, isolated, hopeless or helpless. They may lose their sense of belonging and purpose. They may face stigma and prejudice from others who look down on them or blame them for their situation.

What can be done to help cage home residents?

There is no easy or quick solution to the problem of cage homes in Hong Kong. It requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach from various stakeholders, including the government, the private sector and the residents themselves.

According to various studies, some possible measures that can be taken to help cage home residents are:

  • Increasing the supply and affordability of public housing by speeding up construction, allocating more land, lowering eligibility criteria, and providing subsidies.
  • Improving the quality and regulation of private housing by enforcing building codes, setting minimum standards, inspecting premises, and penalizing violations.
  • Providing more social services and welfare for cage home residents by offering health care, education, legal aid, counseling, job training, and community engagement.
  • Empowering cage home residents by respecting their rights, listening to their voices, involving them in decision-making processes, and supporting their aspirations.
  • Raising public awareness and empathy for cage home residents by educating the public about their situation, challenging stereotypes and prejudices, promoting social inclusion and solidarity.

Written by Editorial Team

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