The Society for Community Organization (SoCO) and a group of people who regularly sleep at Hong Kong McDonald’s branches have urged the government to address the issue of homelessness.
The city has over 100 McDonald’s outlets which open throughout the night. At many of the fast-food outlets, homeless people occupy sections of the air-conditioned restaurant, sleeping uncomfortably on tables or benches – earning them the nickname “McRefugees.”
Outside the Legislative Council on Monday, the group said that many of the homeless return to the streets after they leave government-subsidised accommodation. Under current rules, they cannot spend more than six months at government hostels.
The anti-poverty NGO says it would like the government to extend the duration of stay at shelters and enact other measures to improve the situation of the homeless.
According SoCO’s research, the number of homeless people sleeping at the city’s McDonald’s rose from 57 in 2013 to 384 in 2017. The group said that this reflects a worsening problem of homelessness as well as the difficulty of securing housing in Hong Kong.
“These are very shameful numbers for Hong Kong,” social sector lawmaker Shiu Ka-chun said on Monday. He said that Hong Kong tends to focus on financial matters and emphasise success stories and the city’s millionaires, but “the stories of the poor have been hidden out of sight.”
Shiu also said that the government had been unwilling to meet with them, and it was only after applying pressure that the Home Affairs Department agreed to send a representative.
One “McRefugee” told reporters that it was difficult to rent subdivided flats even with the government’s social welfare subsidy, and that such lodgings were often plagued by bedbugs: “We can’t sleep, and so we have to spend the night at the fast food restaurants.”
Last November, the government revealed that Hong Kong’s poverty rate has hit 19.9 per cent – a record high since 2009.