Hong Kong 'McRefugees' up sharply, study shows

January 11, 2016 19:00
A man exercises on a footbridge he calls home. At right, a homeless person sleeps on a bench in a 24-hour fast-food shop. Photos: HKEJ, Reuters

Hong Kong has seen a sharp increase in the number of homeless people and street sleepers, a study shows.

So-called "McRefugees", homeless people who sleep in 24-hour MacDonald's restaurants, rose to 256 in 2015 from 57 in 2013, Ming Pao Daily reports, citing Homeless Outreach Population Estimation (HOPE), a citywide effort to account for the homeless.

HOPE conducted the survey in October last year with volunteers from five universities and non-government organizations including Christian Concern For The Homeless Association, the Salvation Army, Society for Community Organizations (SoCO) and St. James’ Settlement. 

The figures show a 14 percent increase in the number of homeless people to 1,614 in 2015 from 1,414 in 2013.

More than half were from Kowloon West, including Yau Tsim Mong and Sham Shui Po.

A total of 372 homeless people took part in more detailed interviews.

More than nine in 10 of the homelesss are male. The average age is 54.3.

They have lived on the streets an average of 5.1 years, up from just 3.9 years in 2013.

Seven in 10 have been homeless for at least two years and almost four in 10 for at least 20 years.

About a quarter of the respondents have a high school education and some have attained tertiary level.

Wong Hung, an associate professor in social work in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the situation is alarming.

He said the findings show that a growing number of older people are becoming homeless and more street sleepers are spending longer periods living on the streets.

Wong blamed high rents and poor living conditions in subdivided flats for the phenomenon.

He warned that more people will be homeless if the economy worsens.

A 65-year-old man said he moved out of a subdivided flat because he could not afford HK$2,300 (US$296) rent after he lost his job.

He sleeps in a 24-hour fast-food shop from midnight till 6 a.m.

However, he said he can barely rest because he is not allowed to lie down on the seats and the bright lights and loud music keep him awake.

SoCO's Ng Wai-tung said nearly half of the interviewees receive welfare benefits from the government but these don't go far enough.

He said the government should raise indigent rent subsidies to market rates and expand the supply and allocation of public housing for single people.

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