Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

National and World

February 7, 2013

Poor in cages show dark side of Hong Kong boom

(Continued)

"When we were in secondary school, we had some sort of experiment where we put many rats in a small box. They would bite each other," said Fung. "When living spaces are so congested, they would make people feel uneasy, desperate," and angry at the government, he said.

Leung, the cage dweller, had little faith that the government could do anything to change the situation of people like him.

"It's not whether I believe him or not, but they always talk this way. What hope is there?" said Leung, who has been living in cage homes since he stopped working at a market stall after losing part of a finger 20 years ago. With just a Grade 7 education, he was only able to find intermittent casual work. He hasn't applied for public housing because he doesn't want to leave his roommates to live alone and expects to spend the rest of his life living in a cage.

His only income is HK$4,000 ($515) in government assistance each month. After paying his rent, he's left with $2,700 ($350), or about HK$90 ($11.60) a day.

"It's impossible for me to save," said Leung, who never married and has no children to lean on for support.

Leung and his roommates, all of them single, elderly men, wash their clothes in a bucket. The bathroom facilities consist of two toilet stalls, one of them adjoining a squat toilet that doubles as a shower stall. There is no kitchen, just a small room with a sink. The hallway walls have turned brown with dirt accumulated over the years.

While cage homes, which sprang up in the 1950s to cater mostly to single men coming in from mainland China, are becoming rarer, other types of substandard housing such as cubicle apartments are growing as more families are pushed into poverty. Nearly 1.19 million people were living in poverty in the first half of last year, up from 1.15 million in 2011, according to the Hong Kong Council Of Social Services. There's no official poverty line but it's generally defined as half of the city's median income of HK$12,000 ($1,550) a month.

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