Photographers' Blog

Squatting in Brussels

Brussels, Belgium

By Yves Herman

Once a church and convent, the “Gesu squat” is a huge building which has long been home to an eclectic group of residents.

But now, if a project by a Swiss developer gets the green light, it may be turned into a hotel and luxury apartments, and its inhabitants will face expulsion. At first, Gesu was occupied by artists, who organized events and exhibitions between 2009 and 2012. They had to leave, however, after clashes with newcomers – mainly people in precarious situations looking for a place to live.

Some 160 residents, including 60 children, have lived at the Gesu squat for more than three years. But over the past few months, the number of inhabitants has grown so large that authorities have become worried about them bothering neighboring communities.

Only a few metro stops from Brussels’s famous tourists sites and European institutions, the Gesu church and convent were bought by a Swiss developer named Rosebud Heritage in 2007. The company said that residents could live there until building works started.

Most of the people at Gesu are immigrants from countries including the Czech Republic, Spain and Brazil, who want to settle in Belgium. A few of the families have already lived in Belgium for a long time, and some have stayed in the squat for months or years. But the residents, the landlord and the authorities have signed an agreement saying that they must leave within two months if the project to build a hotel is approved.

Coffin, sweet coffin

By Damir Sagolj

Just around the corner from where Blade Runner met Bruce Lee, in the neighborhood where Hong Kong’s millions are made, 24 people live their lives in coffins. They call it home – but they’re only 6 by 3 feet wooden boxes, nicknamed coffins and packed into a single room to make more money for the rich.

SLIDESHOW: LIVING IN COFFINS

In a crazy chase for more dollars, landlords in the island city are building something unthinkable in the rest of the world – a beehive for people collected from the margins of society. Math is a rat; pitiless and brutal. Twenty-four times 1450 Hong Kong dollars a month is more than anyone would pay for this just over 500 square feet room.

Mister T, the only inhabitant of these coffin homes who did not want his picture taken (“I have a grown daughter, she would be ashamed”) calls it the bottom. After spending time in the States, with a few years behind bars, this is as low as it gets for him. He spits through broken front teeth, like the routine of a street gangster, and continues bitching about the life – “better than nothing, but not as good as the real life.”