A home and a job for McRefugees

The booth in Temple Street set up by MercyHK and Father Wotherspoon.
The booth in Temple Street set up by MercyHK and Father Wotherspoon.

HONG KONG (SE): Oblate Father John Wotherspoon, together with Mercy-HK, a lay charity group, initiated a project for the homeless to offer them accommodation and work. The project began in April to care for the most vulnerable during the Covid-19 coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic.

Mercy-HK, an initiative by Father Wotherspoon to help accommodate the homeless, set up a booth near 195 Temple Street, selling second-hand clothes and household appliances. The revenue will go to the care of the homeless.  The booth was blessed at a ceremony officiated by Deacon Edwin Ng Wing-hung on May 1. It is open every day from 4.00 to 9.00pm for the month of May. 

Father Wotherspoon told the Kung Kao Po on May 1 that many homeless people who used to spend their nights in fast food restaurants have lost their place to stay during the pandemic. The McRefugees, who spent their nights in the 24-hour McDonald’s outlets, had to sleep on the streets after the fast food chain took measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. 

During a March interview with UCAN, Father Wotherspoon came up with the idea of helping them by renting rooms in a guesthouse. When generous people found out about the undertaking, their response was unexpectedly good. 

He received over 200 messages through WhatsApp from people who wanted to support the project. He said he was deeply thankful for the donations of secondhand items and the money to help him pay the rent.

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Father Wotherspoon rented 10 guesthouse rooms for 21 homeless people in early May. He wrote on his blog that the guesthouse was chosen because the rent was not high and a fast food restaurant downstairs had offered free meals for the poor. 

He added that due of the pandemic, renting a large room to accommodate many people was not possible. So small rooms for two to three people are rented for now. 

Mei,  a 70-year-old beneficiary, said she had been a security guard for years and could once afford to rent a room. But she recently lost her job so had to stay at fast food outlets in Mongkok, Yau Ma Tei or Tsim Sha Tsui. She said the employees and the customers did not complain about her and she could sleep in a corner, which was better than staying on streets. 

For many years, Father Wotherspoon, together with the St. Paul’s Revival Association, a prison visitation group, has organised free “pizza parties” at St. Paul’s parish, Yau Ma Tei, for the street-sleepers. But the gatherings were stopped due to the pandemic. Mei said she learned through the gatherings that Jesus told people to help others so she hopes that she can find a job and serve society.

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A 70-year-old man named Ming  lost his job during the pandemic and said his age made it hard to find work again. The project helped him get a place to stay. 

Father Wotherspoon said the beneficiaries are required to respect one another and give up bad habits like drinking.  

Chan Chi-Kong, president of the St. Paul’s Revival Association, expressed hope that the project could help the homeless to come into contact with others through working at the booth. 

Chan said that as the pandemic has seriously affected the tourism industry, the rooms can be rented at more reasonable prices.

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