ORAL, Kazakhstan -- In the remote northwestern Kazakh city of Oral there is a dilapidated three-story building called a "family dormitory" in which every one of the some 100 families living there has at least a mother or a father who was an orphan as a child.
Each family says they were placed in the ramshackle structure, the Shanghyrak Youth Home, only "temporarily" as they await their turn to get a new home from the state.
According to Kazakh law, children raised in an orphanage have the right to state-funded housing when they grow up and leave the institution. The reality, however, has been harsh for the Shanghyrak residents, many of whom have been waiting for decades to get a "permanent" home.
Some of them moved in as young couples and went on to have children and even grandchildren, yet still haven't received homes from the government of the gas-rich country.
After a difficult start in life, many Kazakh orphans continue to struggle financially and socially, even some of those with a university education. "I was left at an orphanage at the age of three, and I don't remember my early childhood at all," said 30-year-old Asel Antaeva, who lives in Shanghyrak with her family of four.
Like many other orphans, Antaeva was left to fend for herself after being released from the orphanage at 18. Unlike other children who grow up with their parents or even relatives in the family-oriented, predominantly Islamic Central Asian state, there has been no family support for Antaeva and other children from orphanages.
"I always knew that I cannot rely on anyone, so I tried very hard at school and got a scholarship for a teaching university," Antaeva told RFE/RL.
Antaeva says that during the university years she worked part-time after school at a copy center and gave private school lessons. She eventually got married and had two children.
Antaeva was registered to receive state-funded housing in 2010. She is currently in 243rd place in the line to get a home in Oral. She says that "the line moves incredibly slow" and that her turn won't come for at least five years.
One Room For Everything
Six years ago the family was given a single, 12-square-meter room at Shanghyrak, where they have to share a bathroom and kitchen with dozens of others living on the same floor.
There is almost no furniture in the room, where an old fridge stands in the corner with a kettle, a teapot, and other items sitting atop it. A small, round table with plastic legs is used both for family dining and as a desk for Antaeva's daughter to do her homework.
Under the table is her toddler son's toilet-training seat and a toy car stands next to a plastic wash basin where the children take baths. The family sleeps on mattresses on the floor because there is no space for a bed.
"This room is where we eat, sleep, brush our teeth, and wash our children," Antaeva said.
The interior of the dormitory is, amazingly, even more rundown and gloomy-looking than its exterior. Floors are chipped throughout the long corridors, walls are cracked, and the paint has peeled off walls. There is only one functioning shower in the common shower room. The shared kitchen has just one old sink.
The residents say they wait in a long line every morning to use the common toilets or take a shower. Some families in Shanghyrak have had "more luck" than the others by receiving 30-square-meter rooms with their own bathrooms.
Officials have concluded several times that the 70-year-old building is no longer safe to inhabit.
Despite all the problems, however, there is a high demand for a room in Shanghyrak. When one family moves out, another quickly replaces it.
Shanghyrak residents don't pay rent or utilities. The families, however, say they pay for the renovation of their rooms. The residents also claim they must hire electricians and plumbers for frequent emergencies in the common areas.
'You're Not Our Responsibility'
Shanghyrak is funded by the regional Education Department of the West Kazakhstan Province where Oral is located. The department's Agency for Special Education and the Protection of the Rights of Children says the dormitory doesn't come cheap for the state.
According to official figures, the agency has spent about $51,600 for the upkeep of the dormitory this year alone. Saulesh Khamzina, a senior official at the agency, says it's a "waste of money."
"There are 94 adults living in Shanghyrak, along with their 78 children in total," Khamzina told RFE/RL. "We're just throwing away money to look after them. They should not be considered our responsibility," Khamzina said, "because they're not orphanage children anymore."
In October, several people from the city government visited Shanghyrak to discuss multiple complaints filed by its residents. "We have two options to solve the problem -- to offer permanent homes for the residents or build a new family dormitory," Oral Deputy Mayor Miras Mulkai said after the meeting. "We need to make a decision."
The residents haven't heard from the authorities since then.
On December 1, Shanghyrak residents staged a protest in front of the building, accusing the local government of neglecting their long-standing complaints.
"We've complained to both city and provincial governments and they always promise help but, in reality, we don't see any changes," protester Menslu Tantashova said. "We call on the country's president -- as the guarantor of our rights -- to resolve our housing issue," she said on behalf of the other protesters.
There are currently 1,889 people who were raised in orphanages and are now waiting for state housing in Oral, according to the city government.
Across Kazakhstan, some 23,000 former "orphanage children" are waiting for permanent homes. Lines for housing "move quicker" in some big cities -- including Almaty, Shymkent, and the capital, Nur-Sultan -- where more residential buildings are being constructed every year, sources say.
But Oral is not among those cities.
And the hundreds of residents of Shanghyrak don't know when -- if ever -- they will be able to move into their "own" homes.