Hong Kong’s poorest living in ‘coffin homes’

Hong Kong (CNN) — Hidden amid the multi-million dollar high-rise apartments and chic shopping malls of Hong Kong’s urban centers are scores of tiny, unseen tenements — some no bigger than coffins — that many people call home.

Mak, 72, has lived in his four-walled “coffin home” overlooking the city’s Wan Chai neighborhood for the past decade. His entire living space is no bigger than a twin-sized bed, and has just enough room for him to sit up.

“No one wants to live here, but we need to survive,” said Mak, who works as a janitor at the nearby Times Square. “It’s a step up from being on the streets.”

Nicknamed coffin homes for their physical similarities, the 15-square-foot enclosure is just one incarnation of the city’s distinctive low-income housing alternatives. Others include the city’s cage homes, which resemble livestock coops.

Twenty tenants in Mak’s building share a communal bathroom that doubles as a shower. Hallways are clad with slapdash wiring and bad ventilation — and bedspaces are stacked atop one another like kitchen cupboards.

“There’s a stigma about those living in these places. People think that it’s because they are lazy, but that couldn’t be further from the truth,” said Sze Lai San, a social worker based in Hong Kong. “Sometimes their jobs just pay very little despite their long hours and hard work, or they just fall on hard times.”

And Mak is no exception. A Hong Kong native, he went bankrupt after a series of unsuccessful ventures in finance and now makes barely enough to cover his rent — around $150 a month.

He is now among the 1.2 million Hong Kong residents who currently live in poverty, according to a government advisory group.

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