Hong Kong’s ‘caged dogs’: Poverty-stricken people forced to live like animals in one of the world’s wealthiest and most densely populated cities
- More than 50,000 people are thought to live in 6ft by 3ft iron and timber shanties, many of which are run illegally
- British-born photographer Brian Cassey visited a hot, dank community of cage-dwellers perched on a rooftop
- Inhabitants pay HK$1,500 (£117) a year – compared to HK$16,000 (£1,240) a month for a small one-bed apartment
By DAN BLOOM
PUBLISHED: 11:22 GMT, 13 February 2014 | UPDATED: 11:40 GMT, 13 February 2014
Crammed into wire mesh boxes the size of coffins, these are the penniless people forced to live like animals in one of the world’s richest cities.
Hong Kong’s forgotten ‘caged dogs’ pay about HK$1,500 a year (£117) to live in a city whose small size and high population pushes the rent on even a tiny flat far out of the reach of its poorest residents.
The poverty-stricken people keep their clothes and photos of loved ones next to filthy blankets in their cages, which measure 6ft long and between 2 1/2 ft and 3ft wide and are stacked on top of each other.
Some of them cannot stretch their legs out straight and are forced to sleep curled up in a ball.
Life in a cage: Yan Chi Keung, 57, reads the newspaper in his cage home in Hong Kong. The wire mesh boxes are 6ft long and up to 3ft wide and cost £117 a year, compared to £1,240 a month for a small, privately-rented one-bedroom apartment. More than 220,000 people are on the housing waiting list
Caged dogs: Retired Kong Sui Kao, 64, lives in this cage in a cramped room alongside seventeen other people on the roof of a 12-storey block. His underwear hangs on a coat hanger, his shirts are inside the cage and his meagre possessions are stored on a makeshift shelf above his feet
Retired manual labourer, 79-year-old Tai Lun Po, has lived in his cage home for 30 years. The inhabitants are stacked on top of each other in damp, dark conditions
Poverty: Eight-year-old Lee Ka Ying lives in a 6ft square ‘cubicle cage home’ with her mother, pcitured. For many it is the only way to work in the overcrowded city
British-born photographer Brian Cassey, who lives in Cairns, Australia, is the latest to document residents of shocking cage homes who are known locally as ‘caged dogs’.
He found one of the illegal iron and timber shanties perched on the rooftop of a 12-storey apartment block in the downtown district of Kowloon, on the peninsula opposite the main city centre on Hong Kong Island.
‘The atmosphere inside is hot, dark, intense and unfriendly’, he said. ‘As I first arrived in the corridor outside, I could hear the landlord inside yelling at the residents; I beat a retreat and returned later.’
With a population of more than 7 million, about the same as London, the wealthy former British colony has an area of just 426 square miles which puts prices at a premium. A small one-bedroom apartment costs about HK$16,000 (£1,240) a month.
The caged homes began in the 1950s and 1960s when a baby boom and an influx of Chinese migrants saw Hong Kong’s population soar by more than a million.
But there were just a few thousand cages until the 1990s, when the estimated number soared to a peak of 100,000 in 1997.
Hardship: Yan Chi Keung, 57, (centre), who suffers from mental illness, smokes in the room where he lives with several other men. The homes began in the 1950s
Behind bars: Yan Chi Keung, 57, lives in a ground-level cage with two more stacked above him, paying about £100 a year to live in the desolate iron and timber shanty
Hong Kong is one of the world’s richest and most densely populated cities, leading to huge inequality. Pictured: Retired manual labourer Tai Lun Po, 79
Last year the government estimated there are 177,000 people living in highly inadequate housing in Hong Kong, but because so many of the cage homes are run illegally it is impossible to say how many of that number were cages.
According to the most recent official figure in 2007, 53,000 people were living in the mesh boxes.
One cage-dweller, Wong Tat Ming, 57, said his home is too small for him to stretch out fully, forcing him to sleep curled up into a ball.
Many of the residents feel making a cage their home is better than living on the street. One, Roger lee, 61, said: ‘I have been here for three years now and before this I was in another cage home.
‘I’ve been on the public-housing waiting list for many years, but I’m single so have no hope.’
The government says there are more than 220,000 people on the waiting list for public housing, about half of whom are single individuals, and the average wait is almost three years.
Some illegally tenanted buildings were evicted recently, but only five out of 100 of the tenants were reportedly offered public housing.
Desperation: Former Chinese restaurant worker Tang Man Wai, 60, looks out of the window from his cage. One cage-dweller, Roger lee, 61, said: ‘I have been here for three years now and before this I was in another cage home. I’ve been on the public-housing waiting list for many years, but I’m single so have no hope’
Retired manual worker Tai Lun Po, 79, stands next to his cage home. The wire mesh boxes are about the size of coffins, despite being in one of the world’s richest cities
Homelessness in Hong Kong was once rare, but many hundreds now live in doorways, under overpasses, and in tunnels.
Sze Lai-Shan works for Hong Kong’s Society for Community Organisation, which visits 1,000 cage-dwellers a year and campaigns for their living standards to be improved.
She told MailOnline: ‘If you run a cage home you need to apply for a licence but people are now setting them up without licences and running them illegally, so the government doesn’t have an accurate figure on how many there are.
‘We’re finding more and more illegal cage homes and the cost of living in them is rising. The average rent is about 1,500 Hong Kong dollars (£117) a year. If the landlord is kind they might charge $1,000, and that’s for 15 or 18 square feet.
‘We’re trying to put pressure on the government to increase the supply of public housing and push the government to monitor the cage homes and the rent people are paying a lot more.’
Dirt: Tai Lun Po, 79, in the corridor outside the room where he lives with 16 other cage dwellers. Many of the homes are illegal and thus invisible to authorities
Retired Kong Sui Kao, 64, lies in his cage. British-born photographer Brian Cassey said: ‘The atmosphere inside is hot, dark, intense and unfriendly… As I first arrived in the corridor outside, I could hear the landlord inside yelling at the residents; I beat a retreat and returned later’
A pauper’s meal: Yan Chi Keung, 57, eats a table in his cramped room full of cage homes. The number has rocketed to more than 50,000 since the early 1990s