While the government provides shelters and subsidised housing for homeless people, critics say caps on the length of time they can stay only offer short-term relief.
SoCO social worker Ng Wai-tung estimates 25 percent of Hong Kong’s homeless population are McRefugees – people who call fast-food outlets home. He expects to see more in the summer when street sleepers seek air-conditioning to cool down.
Slouched in a corner of a 24-hour McDonald’s in Kowloon district, Wong Shek-hei, 65, said he earned HK$7,000 a month as a cleaner. He left a bed that cost about HK$1,500 a month more than three weeks ago, when bed bugs and disturbances from drug addicts drove him to the fast-food restaurant.
“In summer there are more than 20 people sleeping here,” he said.
Reuters visited four 24-hour McDonald’s, where it found on average six people bedding down of a night in each of the restaurants. Some lay stretched out with their shoes off, while others slept with their heads on tables.
“Since more than 120 McDonald’s restaurants are operating around the clock among our around 240 restaurants in Hong Kong, there could be chances that some customers stay in our restaurants overnight,” McDonald’s told Reuters.
“McDonald’s Hong Kong is accommodating to people (who) stay long in the restaurant for their own respective reasons.”
As the homeless population grows, rough-sleepers are appearing in areas they were rarely seen previously.
“The situation has definitely worsened in the past two years and we see Tsuen Wan as a new location for the homeless to gather,” said Olivia Chan, a social worker with Christian Concern for the Homeless Association, referring to a district on the mainland north of Mong Kok.
“More and more people are sleeping in fast-food shops now.”
One McRefugee surnamed Yeung, who has been sleeping at a McDonald’s branch for the past eight months, said the outlet was a safe haven for him.
“McDonald’s doesn’t approve of you sleeping here, but they turn a blind eye,” Yeung, who declined to use his full name due to concerns over job security, told Reuters.
“It’s a shelter from the rain, the heat, the cold and the bad.”
($1 = 7.8187 Hong Kong dollars)
(Additional Reporting by Carmel Yang and Pak Yiu in HONG KONG and Dewey Wei Chun Sim in SINGAPORE; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Stephen Coates)