• Tue
  • Dec 23, 2014
  • Updated: 5:22am
NewsHong Kong

Plight of Hong Kong's cage-home dwellers 'worse now than 25 years ago'

Ten-year queue for public housing put Tang Man-wai off even applying. He is one among many thousands who have grown used to life in a cage

PUBLISHED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 4:28am
UPDATED : Monday, 10 March, 2014, 6:00pm

More than 25 years ago, Ho Hei-wah took up advocacy work after witnessing the plight of Hong Kong's cage-home dwellers. Back then, he had never thought the problem would still be around a quarter of a century later, with no signs of improvement.

Standing in a dirty flat in Sham Shui Po where eleven cage homes were stacked on top of each other, Ho - who heads the NGO Society for Community Organisation (Soco) - said the problem was getting worse, especially for a new generation who had grown up in such conditions.

"A home is not just about a place to sleep. It affects the emotional and psychological well-being of a whole family," he said. "It's not a new topic."

This year's Hong Kong ArtWalk, to be held on March 12, features eight shocking photos of cubicles and cage homes titled Living at Limit. The photos, by Hong Kong photographer Benny Lai, will accompany an installation recreating a cage home at The Space gallery on Hollywood Road.

ArtWalk is an annual fundraising event in which over 60 galleries in Central open their doors to the public. Proceeds from ticket sales are donated to Soco.

Tang Man-wai has lived in cage homes for 30 years. He had never even applied for public housing until a few months ago, when doctors found mould in his lungs and warned him that living in a cage home was hazardous to his health. Tang, 64, now needs an oxygen mask to breathe.

"Living alone is boring," Tang said, adding that he felt bad about asking the government for so much, as he was already on welfare. "But now, a lot of the other people have left. If they offer me public housing now, I'd go immediately."

The public housing waiting list for single people like Tang can easily stretch to more than a decade. Such a long wait was a major deterrent to applying, he said.

Soco knows of at least 1,000 cage homes, subdivided flats and cubicle units, close to 70 per cent of which have been recently constructed, said Soco's Sze Lai-shan. Far more are thought to exist. There are no official figures, but it is thought that at least 200,000 of Hong Kong's poorest people are living in such conditions, she said.

The government made poverty alleviation a focus in this year and last year's policy address, including giving out one-off living subsidies. But construction of public housing has been slower than promised and the government has been unwilling to take actions such as introducing rent control to solve the issue, Ho said.

"[In terms of] poverty alleviation, nothing will work if you don't deal with the housing situation," Ho said. "And so far, what the government has done is vastly inadequate. The situation will get worse in the coming four to five years."


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This article is now closed to comments

To mer...
Cage living is occupied mostly by older folks who have limited income. I am sure there are few who choose to live like that for companionships that a more affordable form of living is unattainable. Most occupants really have no choice facing very high rents that perpetually haunting them against what income they manage can get. For those who work low wages which keep them there living in cages as well.
Cage living in Hong Kong since first reported 25 years ago has become an institution. The society is numb and insensitive to such degrading way of living among its people. It may even have for some to hold the cage living folks responsible and subliminally feeling those folks deserving because they are and haven’t worked hard enough. With such sentiment, after 25 years of which known to the world and decried by UN, cage living is unmovable but wrought in our culture as an institution without shame.
Hk slavary is keep expanding....even so called middle class is living in shoes boxes and this is a result of we are digging the hole for ourselves like shooting our own foot...I believe this can be resolved just none of us can compromise on land development and government process has never been regineered in the past 100 years to cope with changing land requirements.
It's kinda sad also that so many people comment on the silly things that our so called politicians do, but when it comes to people living in cages, we've got 4 or 5 comments at most.
I am guilty of this as well as we are sometimes so jaded and annoyed by the absurdity of our government that we fail to see that we ourselves can lend a helping hand to make someone else's life better without the intervention of Governments.
How about once in a while, when we see an elderly struggling with a pushkart or picking up cardboard, lend a helping hand (they might not want money) but I can assure you that they wouldn't mind you helping them out. If we all do this once in a while, the impact although small, still means a lot to the people we helped.
And maybe once in a while when you're walking home and you see someone on the side of the road asking for money, let go of our prejudice and give a little, they may not be legit, but does it matter, would you think they'd still choose the path they have taken if they had your job?
A cap on square footage could be enacted so that excessive floor space in a single flat be converted into smaller, non-cage homes and given to those already living in cage homes. There's an illegal basement in Kowloon Tong that ought to be first up for conversion.
It is very nice of you to offer a helping hand to the old lady, hope there are more people willing to go out of their way to help others.
It may not be a good response by the papers, but sadly, I think that most of the people papers write about are merely a subject to them, you can say that without the article, the awareness may be even less, but at the same time, it is sad that the situation of the people in question rarely helps.
You may also find that if you ever try to give money to elderly cart pushers, they may be quite offended, instead, lend them some of your time to even just listen; I spent some time with one recently and she taught me a lot about her values. You'll find that a lot of these elderly people are eligible for the "Fruit Money" but never take it, because they believe they should work for their living. It shows how ill our society has become when a corrupt minister think they continue to deserve massive salaries while delivering little, and then you've got an old grannie who is more than happy to pick up papers instead of being a drain on public taxpayers.
Once another local newspaper reported on an elderly woman with her cardboard papers. I wrote to the paper to make a donation for her. The paper wrote back to say that as she did not request help, the paper could not accept my donation! I was most surprised at this response and unfortunately I am unable to contact the old woman myself.
It is difficult to comprehend people not being able to improve their livelihoods in decades. What is wrong, society structure or the people themselves?


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