Eye-opening experience

Eye-opening experience

Visits to cage homes help students improve their understanding of the problem


Students and volunteers from YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College during a visit to some of Hong Kong's poor residents living in suite-style accommodation.
Students and volunteers from YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College during a visit to some of Hong Kong's poor residents living in suite-style accommodation.
Photo: YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College
As Hong Kong's property prices continue to rise at a frantic rate, more and more residents are being forced to turn to public housing as a way to tackle the cost of living.

However, with the increased pressure for public housing places, growing numbers of people are having to wait for their turn while living in cramped accommodation.

This often involves a small apartment being subdivided so that it can be used by two or more needy families.

People being forced to live in such difficult conditions have caught the attention of students and teachers at YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College, in Tung Chung, on Lantau Island.

The college set up the Service Outreach Scheme (SOS) last year, with its members determined to help the less fortunate.

During Service Outreach Week, held between July 4 and 8, students visited families living in subdivided flats in To Kwa Wan, Kowloon.

Groups of three or four students, accompanied by volunteers from local charity group Peace Makers, handed out food parcels to tenants at different locations.

Jason Yeung, 16, was surprised when he entered an apartment located above a wet market. He found a middle-aged woman living there alone.

"All I could think about was how dirty the surroundings were," he says. "But I was even more shocked when I went inside the flat and saw how small it was. The washroom was about 1sq m - hardly big enough for even one person."

Marcus Yu, 16, took part in the visits after watching the television series, Rich Mate Poor Mate. The reality programme focuses on the contrast between the lives of wealthy and poor people in Hong Kong. The rich people live among the poor and homeless for several days so they can understand the hardships faced by impoverished people.

Having watched the series, Marcus wanted to find out for himself what it was like living in tough conditions. "I didn't realise how uninhabitable these places were until I saw them myself," he says. "The conditions of the buildings were unsafe; the stairs up to the apartment were very uneven and narrow.

"Besides, the inside of the apartment was appalling. The person I visited could barely fit her bed into the room. There was no extra space for storage, so she had to put all her clothes and personal belongings on her bed."

Some students visited an elderly woman, Mrs Tam, who had left her cage home and moved into public housing. She still relies on a government subsidy to support her basic lifestyle.

"I feel very lucky and grateful to be in public housing," she says. "Public housing is cheaper and nicer; before I never had a window or was close to a supermarket."

Visiting these people has helped the students to better understand the housing problems facing Hong Kong's poor people.

Nattaporn Sutipanyo, 16, says: "When I saw the programmes on caged housing and suite-style apartments, I didn't think it was as terrible as it really is. I don't understand how people can live in such cramped, squalid places."

Marcus adds: "The public housing scheme was created to help people in need. It should not be so hard for these people to gain access to it."



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