Who Are Hong Kong's 'McRefugees?'

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“It was appalling and depressing to witness people drinking alcohol, smoking and washing up in the McDonald's toilet in some outlets that were located in the decaying parts of the city.”

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A recent survey conducted by a non-profit organization showed skyrocketing numbers of people who sleep at 24-hour McDonald’s restaurants across Hong Kong.

Junior Chamber International (JCI) Tai Ping Shan, a non-profit organization, conducted the survey that showed 334 people sleeping in the restaurants during June and July. The number is alarming as it shows a significant increase from a similar 2013 survey that counted only 57 people sleeping in McDonald’s at night.

Those who stay overnight in the 24-hour fast food restaurants are known as “McRefugees.”

While conducting the study, researchers visited 110 McDonald’s outlets. Many of the respondents said they were homeless and were struggling to fight the socioeconomic problems as they can’t afford to pay high rents and electricity bills.

However, not all of them are homeless.

A number of respondents also said they have subdivided apartments but spending the night there is extremely difficult, especially in summers, because of the lack of windows and ventilation.

They added they have an option of paying their landlords $2 per unit of air-conditioning but they prefer spending nights in the restaurant because they can enjoy the cool air without having to pay for it.

Moreover, the added features of free WiFi and bathroom facilities also attract people to stay overnight at the restaurants.

“The purpose of this research was originally to provide services (for the sleepers), but we found that there is no specific picture of the McRefugee situation in Hong Kong. They (government officials) acknowledged that there are no statistics, so we conducted this research. They have places to sleep, but they don't go back home,” said Jennifer Hung, chairwoman of the study.

Sky-high property prices and a deep wealth gap have helped fuel a surge in homelessness. The property prices across the city have gone up 200 percent in the last 10 years. A tiny windowless apartment that can only house a bed goes for about $250 a month and most of the times even that apartment is jointly shared to make it easier to pay the rent.

The rent of apartments in new buildings that have windows and bathrooms, goes up to $1500 a month. The high cost of living in the city is forcing people to live in shacks or in restaurants.

According to the Society for Community Organization (SoCO), a non-governmental human rights group, Hong Kong’s homeless population has jumped about 30 percent to 1,800.

“It was appalling and depressing to witness people drinking alcohol, smoking and washing up in the McDonald's toilet in some outlets that were located in the decaying parts of the city. When I approached some of my subjects to ask them why they chose to spend their nights in McDonald's, the most common response was that they simply couldn't afford to live in permanent accommodation,” said local photographer Suraj Katra.

Banner / Thumbnail : ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

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