In wealthy Hong Kong, poorest live in metal cages

Metal cages

Many poor residents have applied for public housing but face years of waiting. Nearly three-quarters of 500 low-income families questioned by Oxfam Hong Kong in a recent survey had been on the list for more than 4 years without being offered a flat.

Lee Tat-fong, is one of those waiting. The 63-year-old is hoping she and her two grandchildren can get out of the cubicle apartment they share in their Wan Chai neighborhood, but she has no idea how long it will take.

Lee, who suffers from diabetes and back problems, takes care of Amy, 9, and Steven, 13, because their father has disappeared and their mother _ her daughter _ can't get a permit to come to Hong Kong from mainland China. An uncle occasionally helps.

The three live in a 50-square-foot room, one of seven created by subdividing an existing apartment. A bunk bed takes up half the space, a cabinet most of the rest, leaving barely enough room to stand up in. The room is jammed with their possessions: plastic bags filled with clothes, an electric fan, Amy's stuffed animals, cooking utensils.

"There's too little space here. We can barely breathe,'' said Lee, who shares the bottom bunk with her grandson.

They share the communal kitchen and two toilets with the other residents. Welfare pays their HK$3,500 monthly rent and the three get another HK$6,000 for living expenses but the money is never enough, especially with two growing children to feed. Lee said the two often wanted to have McDonalds because they were still hungry after dinner, which on a recent night was meager portions of rice, vegetables and meat.

The struggle to raise her two grandkids in such conditions was wearing her out.

"It's exhausting,'' she said. "Sometimes I get so pent up with anger, and I cry but no one sees because I hide away.''

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