They are known as “McRefugees” or “McSleepers”, homeless or lonely people in Hong Kong who spend their nights at 24h McDonald’s restaurants, and their number is apparently growing at an alarming rate.
Hong Kong is notorious for its obscenely expensive housing market and the inhumane cage-like dwellings that some of the island’s inhabitants are forced to sleep in. Some of these housing units lack basic amenities like running water and private toilets, not to mention air conditioning, so it’s no wonder that some people prefer to spend their nights at 24/7 McDonald’s restaurants. There were around 256 such “McRefugees” in Hong Kong in 2015, but data released earlier this year shows that their number has grown by 50% in the last three years and is predicted to keep on growing.
According to a study by a local branch of Junior Chamber International, most “McSleepers” own or rent small apartments in Hong Kong, but their living conditions pale in comparison to what a McDonald’s offers. The majority of those interviewed in the study also claimed to have stable jobs, but could not even dream of upgrading their apartments on their salaries. They are often referred to as “the working poor”.
But while poverty is the main cause of the “McRefugee” phenomenon in Hong Kong, it’s definitely no the only one. Some people prefer to sleep in a McDonald’s fast-food restaurant because they’re lonely, or to escape family conflicts.
“I used to sleep at my home but finding out that I can sleep here – it’s quite lively, with the young people playing around here and others like me,” 62-year-old Auntie Chan told the South China Morning Post.
Wong Hung, associate professor in social work at Chinese University, claims that while the outrageous price of housing pushed people into McDonald’s restaurants, it was loneliness that kept them there.
So far, authorities have generally ignored McRefugees, despite several NGO’s urging the government to invest in affordable housing and subsidized shelters, but as the phenomenon becomes more widespread, they may have no choice but to acknowledge the problem, and hopefully try to fix it. Compared to other, poorer communities, Hong Kong actually has the financial resources to tackle the issue.
According to the aforementioned study, the hundreds of interviewed McRefugees frequent 84 of the 110 McDonald’s restaurants in the city that stay open all night long, with the most popular location – a venue in Tsuen Wan district – acting as a home for 30 of them.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s most unequal places in terms of wealth distribution, with one in five people living in poverty, according to government data.