Hong Kong – More and more homeless and working poor are staying at night in the giant fast-food chain, McDonald’s, which is open 24-hours.
McRefugees, as they are called, are sleeping overnight in McDonald’s facilities, which are open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The restaurants offer McRefugees a clean, safe and free space to stay, becoming a temporary hostel.
With over 7 millions inhabitants, Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest cities in the world in term of gross domestic product per inhabitant. However, the region is also facing the issue of increasing poverty. Some estimates suggest that 20% of the population, ie. one in five people, are living below the poverty line, and this is even more evident amongst the aging population: one in three seniors. Property prices in Hong Kong have soared 200% in the past decade and a severe shortage of affordable housing is driving people more people onto the streets. For instance, a shared room in a tiny windowless apartment costs HK $2,000 rent per month. The city’s wealth gap has also widened to its worst in 40+ years. As with everywhere else, the most needy cannot afford a decent place to live in. Hong Kong faces the rising number of McRefugees, with the proportion of homeless people that have tripled during the last decade.
The term of McRefugee was first created in the Japanese language: ネットカフェ難民 (nettokafe nanmin), literally “net cafe refugee”. In Japan, most McDonald’s restaurants are operated around the clock. Due to unemployment, high rents and transportation costs in Japan, McRefugees choose to stay at a McDonald’s overnight.The word spread to Hong Kong as 麥難民 (mahk naahn màhn). But, it is only in early October 2015 that the death of a homeless woman in a 24-hour Hong Kong McDonald’s restaurant in Kowloon Bay brought attention to the problem of McRefugees. Since then, the phenomenon has not ceased to increase.
McDonald’s local management of Hong Kong mandates that all restaurants welcome people from all different backgrounds at any time during the day and the night. Employees are to care about the well-being of each visitor regardless of why they are staying in those fast-food restaurants. McDonald’s managers in Hong Kong hope that the government will find a solution to this issue, since it is not a matter of private businesses to deal with it but government’s responsibility. The government is already providing shelters and subsidized accommodation for homeless but it is only a short term relief because there are caps on the length of time a person can stay. Pressure is increasing on the government to take clear and more action.
For McRefugees, McDonald’s is not only a place to sleep and stay instead of the street or dilapidated housing. It has become a community where people can meet and talk in an environment characterized by isolation and social misery. It’s estimated that 25% of Hong Kong’s homeless fall into this category. They are grateful that McDonald’s bosses are not forcing them to leave.
(Photo credits: Dale de la Rey/AFP – Getty Images)