Could you live in a home no wider than a coffin? That’s the fate suffered by an estimated 200,000 poverty stricken people in Hong Kong. The cost of living in a coffin cubicle? Over half of their monthly income. Few have their own bathroom facilities and virtually none have any sanitary space for cooking, washing or eating. Facilities are shared or, worse still, kitchens share space with bathrooms. Dirty dishes sit next to open toilets and every day people risk their lives by sharing these horrific conditions with their neighbors.
Landlords build these cage homes and coffin homes, often illegally and out of sight, on top of high rise buildings. The makeshift shanties don’t conform to building regulations and are extremely hazardous. Faced with living on the streets, many of Hong Kong’s poorest families opt for a coffin cubicle instead. The smallest are barely bigger than coffins, while some do at least have room to stand up. Check out some of the horrifying yet fascinating pictures taken inside the homes. You won’t believe some of the cramped conditions people are faced with in one of the world’s most glamorous cities.
15. Just Enough Room Left For The iPhone
This horrifying picture really brings home the stark reality of life in a Hong Kong coffin cubicle. What you see in this picture is this man’s entire home. He sleeps, eats and lives here. With just about enough space to lie among all his worldly possessions, there really isn’t much else to do except browse his iPhone.
To get a sense of scale, this man’s tiny home is the size of a single-bed mattress. Life outside the coffin cubicle doesn’t get any better. Scores of neighbours will be stacked up around him, all in their tiny, cramped coffin-homes too.
14. You Have To Sleep Next To A Toilet
Looking at that last image might have raised a couple of questions. The main one being, how do these people use the bathroom? Well, here’s the answer. The lucky ones have their own toilet. The downside? They have to sleep right next to it. Others have to share an open toilet area with over two dozen other people.
Men, women and children all have to use the same facilities – which are often broken and rarely cleaned. In this coffin cubicle bathroom you can also see a shower head at the back of the toilet. These spaces are often the only places where coffin cubicle residents can prepare food too.
13. Claustrophobics… Steel Yourself
Scared of small spaces? Have a panic attack every time you use an elevator? Spare a thought for the 200,000 people living in places like this. Someone in Hong Kong calls this stark, narrow, cold looking space, home. With just a work uniform, some take out trays and a DVD player for company, this is a bleak existence.
Narrower than some of the other cubicles on our list, this really is a coffin-sized home. Here are some facts and figures for claustrophobics and the curious – this home measures just 12ft square. The outside is boxed in by rows of wire and more steel – and despite the take out trays, this coffin’s resident says ‘sorrow has destroyed his appetite.’
12. A Place To Escape…
While we might want to escape the hellish nightmare of living in a coffin cubicle, this cage dweller uses his small space as an escape from the world. Faced with the reality that he no longer serves a use to society, Mr. Leung says he is too old to get a job. He immerses himself in his books and watches TV to block out the abject poverty surrounding him and his coffin home. With so many other seniors trapped in these coffin cubicles, it must be hard for them to see a way out. With no income, he has no hope of securing anything approaching a decent standard of living in the city.
11. An Insult To Human Dignity
Hong Kong is home to almost 90,000 of these tiny spaces. They’re called apartments, but they really don’t resemble anything we’re used to living in or seeing in the United States. The UN has condemned them as an insult to human dignity. The tiny, cramped spaces are often squalid, filthy places with little or no fresh air. The resident pictured here told the South China Morning Post: “I dread going home, but I still need a place to sleep.” Even though conditions are awful, rents are rising for these apartments. Residents spend more than half their income just to keep a roof over their heads.
10. Coffin or Cage?
Believe it or not, most of the other images you’ll see on this list are upgrades from the original coffin homes. Before they were ‘coffins’, Hong Kong’s poorest people lived in cages. Side by side like caged animals in a zoo.
In a bid to ‘upgrade’ these living spaces, the cage walls were replaced with wooden boards – which gave them the name ‘coffin cubicles’. Some of the cage homes still exist, with people still living inside. Stacked one on top of the other, the only privacy they can get is by hanging their clothes and belongings on the cage walls.
9. Eat, Sleep, Watch TV…
Even though this might look like a reasonably quiet and private place to live, appearances are deceptive. The flimsy walls and close-by neighbours make a good night’s sleep almost impossible. Homes like this are actually illegal in most countries and Hong Kong is no exception. But with a rising population, low paying jobs and rising unemployment rates, the city is struggling to find a solution. Charities are looking for ways to help – and these images highlighting the plight of Hong Kong’s lowest earners are just part of the solution. For a city famed for its wealth, Hong Kong’s cage home secret is shocking the world.
8. Toilet or Kitchen?
A decision you really hope you’ll never have to make. Bathroom or kitchen – or, as in this picture taken in a tiny coffin cubicle, it’s both. In so many horrific images taken in these illegal and cramped homes, dirty dishes, filthy bathrooms and uncovered food all share the same space. A breeding ground for bacteria and food poisoning, this image shows how the people forced to live in these conditions are struggling with the basics most people take for granted. One coffin cubicle resident revealed the reality of life in these conditions saying: “I have to crouch down to take a shower so the kitchen stove and condiments don’t get wet.”
7. Conditions Are Worse Than Jail
Life inside a Hong Kong coffin home is worse than most jails. Barely enough room to stand up inside your home, you’re also likely to be sharing your small space with some unwanted guests. Bedbugs, lice, cockroaches and insects are all a problem.
Then there’s your neighbours. You’re only ever a couple of feet away from dozens of other people, all crammed into their own squalid coffin home. At least in jail there’s enough space for you and your celly to work out or even just stand up. As one resident told CNN: “No one wants to live here, but we need to survive. It’s a step up from being on the streets.”
6. Kids Live Like This Too
Among the 200,000 people living in Hong Kong’s coffin homes, there are children struggling for space among the adults. Pictured here, some of the larger coffin cubicles are taller – allowing for bunk beds. Surrounded by their belongings, the coffin cubicle children have little space to play and nowhere to run around and just be kids. Their bunk bed doubles as a place to do homework, sleep and sit. Families like this face eviction onto Hong Kong’s streets if they can’t make the monthly rent payments on these small and gloomy homes. One child who lived with relatives was shocked to see her mother living like this and said: ‘Mum, why is this place so strange? Even the farm where we raise chickens back home is bigger than here.’
5. They Could All Go Up In Smoke…
Given the cramped space and lax attitude to building regulations, it’s probably not a great idea to smoke in a coffin cubicle. These tiny tinder boxes are huge fire hazards. Fire departments in Hong Kong are regularly called out to fires in the coffin cubicle filled shantytowns. Men, women and children have all died in the fires – along with some emergency workers. One resident told CNN: “I can skip meals, ignore the dirt, bedbugs and stuffiness, but the biggest problem we have here is safety. We’re stacked like sardines, and there are no regulations. We’d all be dead if a fire were to start.”
4. Curl Up In Your Coffin Cubicle
The phrase ‘curling up with a good book’ takes on a whole new meaning for coffin cubicle dwellers. Firstly, there’s probably not enough space to store a book. And secondly, curling up is the only option for these space-deprived people. So if they did curl up with a book in their restricted space, it’s probably not going to be that enjoyable.
This coffin cubicle resident can only sleep in this position. With no space to stretch out, he’s wedged in his tiny room for 8 hours or more. Sleeping right next to all of his belongings, he can’t even completely fit inside and has to leave his knees hanging out of the door.
3. Could You Cook Here?
Amid all the shocking images, you’ll find Hong Kong’s coffin cubicle residents finding amazing solutions to their space problems. Even in this tiny, cramped space the resident is managing to cook a meal. There’s more than a few problems with this, the main one being it looks like the boiling hot stock pot could tip onto the bed at any moment. Sze, a social worker who helps people in the coffin homes told CNN: “There are some very backward practices that should not be happening in Hong Kong… People in low-income housing need more rights. They shouldn’t be living on the edge.”
2. Hanging Out Gets Tricky
When your home is this small, how do you hang out with your buddies? This top-down image shows three people cramped into their tiny coffin home. One guy is having to sit on the bed to get a space at the table. Enjoying something as simple as getting together for a bowl of noodles is a challenge in these homes. What’s even harder to imagine is that these poverty-stricken people live near some of Hong Kong’s most chic and glamorous areas. The surrounding streets are filled with shopping malls, glitzy apartments and multi-million dollar urban developments.
1. Even The Larger Spaces Are Squalid
If by some miracle you can find (and pay for) a slightly larger cubicle, conditions are still appalling. Faulty wiring and electrics, unsafe structures and filth are just a few of the hazards residents have to deal with. Coffin homes often appear in make shift shantytowns, hidden on rooftops. But with no other choice, families, seniors and young adults are all living in these cramped spaces. Official statistics show a drop in the number of cage homes, but the figures don’t show that the cages have just been replaces with steel or wooden walls. Hong Kong is far from finding a solution to this accommodation nightmare.
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