As Hong Kong’s housing woes continue, the number of “McRefugees” skyrocket

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More and more people have taken to sleeping in McDonald’s restaurants in Hong Kong, due to continued problems with the city’s housing situation. Oddly enough, a large number of these so-called “McRefugees” are not actually homeless, but are employed and have homes of their own.

A study has emerged showing that the number of people sleeping in McDonald’s branches has risen sixfold in the last five years, due to increasingly higher rental rates, as well as poor quality of housing. These problems get even worse when temperatures in Hong Kong soar.

Volunteers from the Junior Chamber International’s Tai Ping Shan branch conducted a survey in June and results show that there are 334 people who sleep in McDonald’s every night in the last three months. The burger chain has 110 branches that operate day and night in Hong Kong, 84 of which claim to have people who stay overnight.

A similar survey was conducted five years ago, and found that only 57 people slept at McDonald’s nightly back then. It was then that the terms “McRefugees” or “McSleepers” was coined.

The latest results show that the McDonald’s outlet in Tsuen Wan has 30 such “McRefugees” nightly, the highest number of all branches. The study of “McRefugees” between the ages of 19 and 79 showed that 57 percent are currently employed, and 71 percent actually have rented or own apartments.

This runs counter to the popular conception that “McRefugees” are homeless and/or unemployed.

The survey respondents gave the following reasons why they chose to sleep in McDonald’s.

  • Saving on air-conditioning
  • Comfort and security
  • High rental costs
  • Arguments with family
  • Availability of social interactions at McDonald’s
  • Poor housing quality
  • Saving on commuting time and money
  • Temporary shelter while waiting for public housing

Jennifer Hung Sin-yu, Tai Ping Shan publication commission chairwoman, believes that the problem of “McRefugees” must be given attention. “Family is the basic unit in a society. Even one person who has a home but cannot return is too many.”

She cited the story of one “McRefugee,” who said that even if Hong Kong’s main suppliers of electricity only charge HK$1.10 per unit, her landlord charges HK$16. To make matters worse, the apartment she rents has no windows, which turns it into an oven during the summer months, and cannot be lived in without air-conditioning.

By March of this year, the waiting list for public rental housing had reached 270,000 in Hong Kong, the least affordable property market in the world. Waiting time for housing for single elderly applicants or families is five years and one month, on average.

While they wait, many applicants rely on subdivided housing of around 100 square feet, which include poor hygiene and ventilation, as well as the risk of fires.

Experts are calling on the government to quip NGOs to help provide counseling for some “McRefugees” who have taken to sleeping at the restaurant due to family problems or loneliness.