Affluent Hong Kong must do more to ease plight of the city's homeless
The public is understandably shocked by the news of a woman found dead last weekend in a 24-hour McDonald's outlet where homeless people seek refuge at night. Her death was apparently unnoticed for hours, as staff continued their work and customers ate their meals. A tragedy of this nature is a shameful reminder that more needs to be done to help the homeless and needy.
With only a few dollars in her pocket and no identity card, the woman, aged between 50 and 60, is believed to have been a street sleeper in the Ping Shek neighbourhood. Surveillance cameras showed she took a seat after entering the restaurant on Friday morning. She stayed there for the whole day, slumped on the table shortly after 1am and was left alone until Saturday morning, when she was found dead.
The tragedy underlines the plight of the homeless in our society. McDonald's outlets have become a sanctuary for street sleepers, many of whom have been priced out of homes by the city's sky-high property prices. They often spend the night in one of its round-the-clock outlets, and are known as "McRefugees". They made headlines in overseas media when the phenomenon was captured by a photographer early this year.
The Social Welfare Department rightly expressed concerns over the death of the woman but offered no concrete solutions to the problem. Despite a network of hostels and outreach programmes, the number of homeless people is still on the rise, up from 393 in December 2010 to 806 in January this year. Their numbers may even reach 1,500 if we take into account those outside the department's registration system, according to some NGOs.
Homelessness is a social problem that involves complex issues and Hong Kong is not the only city to face this predicament. But for those who are struggling to find a place they can call home, an affluent city like Hong Kong can afford to do more.