Number of ‘McRefugees’ increasing, study finds

February 25, 2019 12:34
The rising number of people who spend their nights in 24-hour fast-food restaurants such as McDonald's points to the growing problem of homelessness in Hong Kong. Photo: AFP

The number of people who spend their nights in 24-hour McDonald’s restaurants has been on the rise, a study shows.

The study conducted by the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) shows that the number of so-called McRefugees or McSleepers rose to 448 last year from 57 in 2013, increasing 7.9 times over the five-year period, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports. 

Revealing its findings on Sunday, the organization urged the government to step up efforts to contain the problem, which can also be seen in government statistics.

According to the latest data from the Social Welfare Department, the number of street sleepers rose to 1,270 in 2018 from 780 in 2013, representing a 62.8 percent increase and a new high.

Staff at the SoCO, a non-governmental and human rights organization for the underprivileged in Hong Kong, counted the number of people staying in 24-hour McDonald's restaurants between November 2018 and January this year.

Of the McRefugees identified, about four in 10 were in Kowloon West, where the ratio was the highest among all districts, reported.

New Territories West came in second with a ratio of 19.87 percent, followed by Hong Kong Island (17.86 percent), New Territories East (13.17 percent) and Kowloon East (7.59 percent).

The SoCO also noted that McRefugee numbers in New Territories West and New Territories East have gone up sharply over the past five years.

The number of female McRefugees rose to 72 last year, up 16.1 percent from 14 in 2013.

The SoCO pointed out that there were only five subsidized places for homeless women, accounting for 3.1 percent of the total.

A female McRefugee, who is a recipient of the government’s Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme, said she used to live in a subdivided flat but the rent was far more than half of the money she was receiving from the scheme.

She also noted that the hygiene conditions were very bad, making her decide to stay at a 24-hour restaurant instead.

The survey also found that 42 percent of the McRefugees interviewed were employed, with a median income of HK$8,125, down from HK$9,600 in the survey of the same kind in 2017, while their affordable median rent was HK$1,835, compared to the median rent of subletting private units such as subdivided flats of HK$4,500 in 2016.

The period set for the subsidized residential places is six months.

Ng Wai-tung, a SoCO community organizer, suggested that the government increase the number of subsidized places, especially for females, as well as extend the period to three years.

In addition, the SoCO said the administration should take the lead in building more social housing, noting that their total number should be more than 10,000 and some of them should be reserved for the homeless.

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