Hong Kong’s McSleeper trend rises 50 per cent in three years, as NGO highlights vulnerability of women in the group
Survey findings come alongside calls for government to adapt vacant sites for social housing
The number of homeless people in Hong Kong who spend their nights in 24-hour branches of a popular fast food chain has increased by 50 per cent in three years, according to an NGO highlighting the vulnerability of women in the group.
There were 384 such people this year, compared with 256 in 2015, a study conducted by the Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) found. Called McSleepers or McRefugees, they are known for seeking overnight shelter at McDonald’s outlets around the city.
From last December to January, the group surveyed four districts in Hong Kong.
SoCO also conducted follow-up surveys with 116 of the 384 people, and found that 11.2 per cent – or 13 individuals – were female. Most of the women said they chose to stay overnight in the outlets because they felt safer. Other reasons included a preference for air-conditioned and clean environments.
A 48-year-old woman, who goes by the nickname “Monitor”, said she had been sleeping in McDonald’s branches in Hung Hom since 2016. She left a shelter operated by a charity group in Wan Chai after her three-month stay expired.
“I didn’t want to stay there any more,” Monitor said. “Because there were bullies, thefts, and sexual harassment among the 20 female members.
“I was harassed several times by a woman, who always asked me if I had sex with men recently. When I reported this to the shelter manager, who was a man, he said his hands were tied and he could not handle such a ‘female issue’.”
As a Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipient since 2007, Monitor can only afford to rent a partitioned flat for HK$1,500 (US$191) a month. She uses the space only to store personal belongings, claiming there are too many cockroaches and bed bugs.
Three NGOs are subsidised by the Social Welfare Department to provide integrated services for street sleepers at 120 shelters, of which only five are exclusively for women.
SoCO, a social service NGO based in Hong Kong’s poorest district Sham Shui Po for more than 45 years, called on the government to provide more subsidised dormitories for women, and in the long run, to turn vacant public premises into social housing to accommodate the homeless and shorten the queue for public housing.
“The government should be responsible for providing more subsidised shelters, especially for homeless women,” Ng Wai-tung, a community organiser from SoCO said.
Ng urged officials to turn unused public premises and vacant schools into sites for more social housing.
Hong’s Kong’s lack of affordable housing fuels ‘McSleeper’ trend, where the homeless sleep at McDonald’s
On December 8 last year, social workers from SoCO visited 73 of the round-the-clock fast food outlets on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Kwai Tsing and Tsuen Wan from midnight to 4am. There are a total of 113 such venues across the city.
The survey found 384 homeless people at the 73 branches. Of them, 225 – or 58.6 per cent – were in Kowloon West, and 91 were located on Hong Kong Island.
The total number of 384 was 1.5 times and 6.7 times the figures reported by the Homeless Outreach Population Estimation (H.O.P.E.) – a study by City University and collaborators – in 2015 and 2013 respectively.
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According to the Social Welfare Department, by the end of 2017, 99 of the 1,075 registered homeless people in Hong Kong were women, accounting for 8.9 per cent of the total. A general H.O.P.E. survey of the homeless in 2015 found the percentage for the same group to be 7.5.
“The government should stop relying on social groups and adapt premises by itself for social housing flats,” Ng said. “At least 10,000 more social housing flats are needed to make an impact and tackle the issue of long queues for public flats.”
Ng said the government should build about 30,000 social housing flats, and 5,000 of them should be reserved for single applicants.
A spokeswoman for the Social Welfare Department said it was mindful of the needs of street sleepers, and had been helping them reintegrate into the community by various means.
Besides the three subsidised NGOs that offered integrated services, another six had been arranged to provide emergency shelters that could last six months, the spokeswoman said.