Hong Kong 24-Hour McDonald’s: Home To Many And A Dying Place For Some

Many would say they are definitely not “lovin’ it” to find out that poor and homeless people are forced to sleep in a 24-hour McDonald’s outlet in Hong Kong. One middle-aged woman even passed away there recently, raising awareness to the trend.

The latest story involves a middle-aged woman, dressed in a grey coat and slippers and sitting at a table in a Hong Kong 24-hour McDonald’s restaurant. To other diners, the woman appeared to be sleeping, slumped over at her table. She was even caught on the restaurant’s CCTV footage, suddenly slumping over the table at around 1:20 a.m.

However, it was only the next morning that staff found the woman was cold and unresponsive. It was then 24 hours after the woman had entered the restaurant that the police were called. Mashable quotes a report in the South China Morning Post saying police identified the woman as a 56-year-old with the surname Lai.

The death of the woman in the Hong Kong 24-hour McDonald’s has now brought focus on the growing number of homeless and working poor people who spend their nights in the fast food restaurants in the city. They have even been dubbed “McRefugees.” To them, the 24-hour branches of McDonald’s offer a rarely-found clean and safe refuge in the southern Chinese city. Reportedly, over 120 of the 253 McDonald’s outlets in Hong Kong stay open around the clock.

Speaking of the phenomenon, McDonald’s Hong Kong said in a statement that they welcome people from all walks of life to visit their restaurants at any time, adding that the company tries to be “accommodating and caring” to anyone who spends a long time in their fast food outlets “for their own respective reasons.”

The phenomenon dates back to around 2007 and has also been seen on the Chinese mainland and in Japan, but it appears to be particularly common in the 24-hour McDonald’s outlets in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is notorious for being among the world’s most expensive places to live due to the city’s sky-high rents.

On top of this, homelessness is becoming a growing problem in the city. The government has estimated the number of people sleeping in the streets as rising to 806 in 2015, which is more than double of the number recorded since 2008. However, social welfare in the city reckons the actual figure may be much higher.

Time reports that one particular homeless person, Mary Seow, started sleeping in a 24-hour McDonald’s restaurant in the Jordan district of the city two weeks ago. Seow noticed that others were doing this, and rather than spending her nights in a park, she moved into the restaurant instead.

Seow, 60, says that most times she doesn’t feel shy about sleeping in the 24-hour McDonald’s, but she does ask herself why she had to end up this way. Seow is widowed and reportedly arrived in the city two months ago after being swindled by mainland Chinese people she met at a church in Singapore.

She has little money left but doesn’t want to travel back to Singapore, as she would then lose face with her friends there, so she spends her nights among the other working poor and homeless who have made a 24-hour McDonald’s restaurant their home.

[Photo via Flickr by Can Pac Swire /CC BY-NC 2.0]