She was dead for hours at McDonalds - and no-one asked if she was ok.

This is what we know about a homeless woman found dead in a McDonald’s restaurant in Hong Kong during the week.

She was dead for seven hours before anyone realised.

She was aged between 50-60.

She was thin, wearing a grey, long-sleeved jacket and slippers.

A McDonald's outlet in Hong Kong.

CCTV footage shows she entered the 24-hour McDonalds at 8.39am on October 2, collapsed at her table (her head lying on top of table) at 1.20am on October 3, and was discovered around 8.30am that morning by an employee or a customer (accounts differ) who found her not breathing and cold.

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CCTV footage shows customers ate and drank right next to her. Staff cleaned and shuffled around her while she lay slumped on the table.

Homeless people often take refuge in McDonalds in Hong Kong because it's open 24 hours and there is a policy to not ask anyone to leave. They have been dubbed 'McRefugees'.

Almost 20 per cent of the population in Hong Kong live below the poverty line. The cost of living is the same as New York and London but salaries are not comparable.

The area where she died was disinfected quickly before being open for the public to eat again.

This is what we don’t know.

Her name.

Whether she ever loved somebody.

Whether she was ever loved.

What made her laugh.

What we would have done if we had sat down to eat near her.

This story about a woman we don't know, who nobody knows, is confronting not just because she lay dead for seven hours while surrounded by a steady roll-call of people slurping on thickshakes and eating burgers and fries; it’s confronting because we ask ourselves what would we have done? Would we have asked if she was okay, or would we have sat as far away from someone like that as possible?

We’ve all walked past a person living rough on the street. Do we engage? Do we give money? Do we buy them a chicken burger and coke? Do we walk right past and pretend they're not even there?

Is there a right response? Getty image

It’s complicated. We’ve heard stories. There are ice addicts on the streets. The mentally ill. We're busy. There is that smell from living on the streets. There is that time we did engage and then found it hard to get away. Buying a burger or handing over $5 feels like a drop in the ocean, so why bother? Who do we give to? Where do we stop?

We’re uncomfortable because we have a warm, nice home. Isn’t there a good Samaritan coming up behind us who will check on that body lying on the footpath? They're probably asleep.

I tell myself I do something near the right thing because I buy the Big Issue whenever someone is selling it. I’ve bought food and given it to the homeless. It's an awkward exchange and I never know if I'm doing the right thing. But, on the whole, I try not to see and I tell myself it’s so complicated, I can’t solve anything at 7.32pm on Oxford St on a Thursday night.

I asked numerous people would they have shown concern for the woman aged between 50-60, wearing a grey jacket and slippers, slumped on a table at McDonalds overnight and in the peak morning rush.

Their responses were 60/40. And I suspect quite a few of the 40 per cent who said they would have gone over to her to see if she was okay, touched her elbow and spoken to her could be kidding themselves.


The other 60 per cent admitted they would have left her alone. Thought it was none of their business, or the McDonalds' staff should have had an eye on her, or she was sleeping. Or they would have seen a messy lump across a table in the corner as they skimmed the restaurant for where to sit and walked in the opposite direction to eat their McMuffin. Case closed. They avoid in the first place.

As we discussed how a woman could be left dead for seven hours in a McDonalds and then realised we knew the answer already, I asked if my friends and colleagues had a policy on the homeless people they come across in everyday life.

Some said they like to give food, but they can’t do that every time because there are too many. Some have regulars, if you like, that they walk past on the way to or from work and stick to giving to those.

Image: iStock.

Others give money when asked (not all the time), saying they are not the judge and jury and it is not up to them if someone on the street spends it on alcohol or drugs.

A few say they give regularly to organised charities that help the homeless and that is their contribution.

A couple said they were scared when they came across homeless people and did their best to not even walk past them.

What everyone shared was the feeling that their response wasn't adequate, But they weren't quite sure what they should do, or even what they were capable of doing, or if what they were doing made a difference anyway.

We can't solve or change the complexities of someone living rough with a can of coke or $5. But at least we are doing something. And doing something can also be simply acknowledging another person's existence in this world. If they look our way, we look back.

Because that woman wearing slippers at McDonalds had a name. These people we walk past have a name. They are homeless and they are human too.

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