The number of homeless people in Hong Kong hit an all-time high last year. Skyrocketing rents and filthy conditions in shoebox flats have pushed more people onto the streets, a survey has revealed.
The figure almost tripled over the past decade from 600 in 2004 to 1,614 last October, according to a city-wide headcount survey by 300 volunteers from five universities and four non-governmental organisations.
"They've been left with no choice. Rent has been rising too fast and the living environment is not worth the price," said Wong Hung, an associate professor in Chinese University's social work department.
Most of the homeless are male, aged between 45 and 64. Nearly half have been street sleepers for more than 10 years.
For 58-year-old Leung Man-kit, rents and living conditions in subdivided flats became too difficult. "I would spend the whole night battling with wood lice, I couldn't really get any sleep," he said. Leung earns HK$3,000 a month from odd jobs and another HK$2,000 in handouts. His old "home", a 70-square-foot space, cost more than half his wages.
The survey also found that today there are more than 250 "McRefugees" - homeless people who stay overnight at 24-hour fast food restaurants - compared to only 57 in a 2013 survey. Their plight took on a new urgency last year when a homeless woman was found dead in a McDonald's.