A recent series of photos documents the quiet nights of many of Hong Kong’s homeless people as they pass their time in the country’s many McDonald’s restaurants. The fast-food restaurants have become a kind of safe haven for the city’s growing number of homeless, people nicknamed “McRefugees.” Because Hong Kong is one of the most expensive places in the world to live, many people cannot afford homes of their own.
This otherwise peaceful issue has received extra media attention following the death of a homeless woman in a restaurant. It took 24 hours before the staff realized that the woman slumped over a table was not sleeping, but that she had passed away.
The rise in Hong Kong’s homelessness stems from the extraordinary cost of rent coupled with the high costs of living expenses. The “new homeless,” a term coined by Chinese University’s Wong Hung, are young people with jobs who have turned to sleeping in public spaces like parks or streets because they can’t afford apartments. Many of these people choose to sleep somewhere near their work because the cost of travel is not worth it.
Because most of Hong Kong’s McDonald’s restaurants are open 24 hours a day, they have become a popular place for homeless people to rest or sleep. A Homeless Outreach Population Estimate study reported that dozens of people were sleeping in the restaurants across the city on one night.
McDonald’s does not appear to have an issue with their homeless patrons. The restaurant “welcome[s] all walks of life to visit our restaurants any time,” a spokesperson told the Associated Press.
Photos of the homeless people in restaurants illuminate a kind of invisible, sturdy truth: the homeless problem in China is at a crushing height, and there may not be enough restaurants or safe havens for them to go to. People sleep slumped over in chairs, sprawled across tables for hours. Homeless people sit next to paying patrons, everybody in for the night and safe from the cold—for a little while.