The number of Hong Kong residents sleeping overnight at McDonald's has increased 600% over the past five years, driven in part by the city's sky-high rents and substandard housing amid an unbearably hot summer, a study has found.

The survey, organised by Junior Chamber International’s Tai Ping Shan branch and conducted in June by volunteers, found 334 people had slept in a McDonald’s outlet nightly over at least the past three months. Of the 110 branches that operate 24 hours in the city, 84 had seen overnight sleepers.

This is a six-fold increase from a similar study in 2013, which found only 57 such people, popularly dubbed McRefugees or McSleepers.

A branch in Tsuen Wan hosted more than 30 sleepers, the highest among all branches, according to the latest study. -SCMP

The researchers spoke with 53 such "McRefugees" between the ages of 19 and 79 - finding that 57% are employed and 71% have apartments they rent or own - contrary to the belief that only homeless, jobless people are camping out at the restaurants.

Topping the list of reasons for camping out, McRefugees point to saving on air conditioning costs, comfort and security, followed by high rents, crappy housing, family conflicts and the ability to develop social relationships. The ability to save on transportation costs and temporary shelter while waiting for low-rent public housing were also included.

One of the cases, a 19-year-old referred to in the study as Ah Lung, was a construction worker who ate, played mobile phone games and slept at a McDonald’s branch in Mong Kok. He did not want to go home due to a bad relationship with his parents, while his income enabled him to live away from home.

“Family is the basic unit in a society,” Tai Ping Shan publication commission chairwoman Jennifer Hung Sin-yu said. “Even one person who has a home but cannot return is too many. This phenomenon is worth our attention.”

One McRefugee renting a subdivided flat in To Kwa Wan, Hung said, told volunteers that her landlord charged her HK$16 for a unit of electricity, compared to about HK$1.10 charged by the city’s two main power suppliers.

Hung said the woman’s flat did not have any windows, which made the city’s humid and hot summer even more unbearable without air conditioning.

“She told us sometimes she couldn’t even feel the flow of the air,” Hung said. -SCMP

Hong Kong is one of the world's least affordable property markets, with over 270,000 applicants on the waiting list for puiblic rental housing. The average wait for families or a single elderly applicant is five years and one month.

While they wait, subdivided shared-housing is the most common option - however these units, often around 100 sqft, are fraught with the risk of fire, poor ventilation and poor hygene.

One 60-year-old well-dressed woman who was "without the unique characteristics of street sleepers" and owns her own flat, said that she spends most of her time at McDonald's eating by herself because she's lonely since her husband died and wants to socialize.

Project consultant Lee Ho-ey said the government should allocate more resources to non-governmental organisations to reach out to McRefugees, providing them with counselling and help.

He said the government should allocate more resources to non-governmental organisations to reach out to McRefugees frequently and regularly, providing them with counselling and help. -SCMP

We would note that nobody mentioned the smell of McDonald's food as a reason for camping out...