Opinion

A Bird’s Eye View of Homelessness: Hong Kong’s Sky Slums

By | Jan 20, 2015

800px-Sham_Shui_Po_rooftopsIn the United States, the gap between those holding the most wealth and the extremely poor is an issue that is quickly coming to the forefront of the political scene. In fact, it could very well become a platform in the next Presidential election.

Economic stratification is not a problem unique to America. Cities around the world are dealing with a rebounding economy that exceedingly benefits the rich more than the poor. One consequence of income inequality is that those living in poverty become disgruntled and seek to change the status quo.

Hong Kong, for instance, is an Asian city that is packed with wealth. Most people think of Hong Kong as a hub of high profile business exchanges. The recent “umbrella revolution”, however, shed light on hidden inequities.

This revolution was prominent because such large-scale political statements were rare on Chinese soil and because the young people involved promoted a non-violent approach. For most observers, the message of this movement was about universal suffrage: Do the Hong Kong people have the right to choose their own leaders?

However, the underlying reason for this political tension was economic. A pervasive question becomes, “Is the younger generation going to obtain the same economic success as their elders?”

Walking on the streets of this crowded Asian city, you will see swarms of people, old and young, peering at the latest smartphone, holding high-end luxury bags, and rushing to their next business or shopping appointment.

You will see hordes of people standing in front of luxury stores buying French and Italian bags, which cost more than a month’s worth of an average person’s salary.

You rarely, if at all, see any signs of homelessness. Poverty is hidden in this seemingly successful metropolis. It is unseen because it is found behind the doors of tenement buildings where several generations of family members share a one-room apartment.

Homelessness is also found on the rooftops of Hong Kong’s tallest buildings. If you stand on this city’s famous waterfront, the view appears as if thousands of skyscrapers are squeezed together, touching both the water and sky.

You would never think that this city’s poor live on top of these buildings. They reside in tiny shacks made of corrugated metal, perched high above the streets.

These rooftop slums reveal that even in this multi-millionaire capital, there are people struggling to stay housed. It is no wonder why Hong Kong’s youth are worried if they will make it economically.

In America, our homeless population is found on the dirty streets of our city. In Asia, homelessness is perched near the sky.