ROUGH SLEEPING IN KUALA LUMPUR: WHEN STATISTICS TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER REALITY
APRIL 16, 2019 @3.23 PM
Homelessness and rough sleeping aren’t inevitable. Mental or physical health problems, issues with drug or alcohol abuse, difficult family backgrounds, traumatic experiences during childhood - sexual or physical abuse, unstable environment are factors that put individuals at risk from an early age.
Mohd Azizan Zainal Abidin, founder of Food for Gelandangan (FFG) attributes the increased number of Malaysians sleeping rough to the harsh economic environment – the increased cost of living and the absence of proper documentation such as identification card or a marriage certificate.
“There are two classification of what needy and homeless is – working, able bodied but they just don’t have a home. You could easily see them in Dataran Masjid Negara.”
“They do hard labour or are attached to fast food outlets. They come from broken families - as far as Kelantan. They are so complacent with their work – but are forced to spend the night at the gazebo’s and the sideways of the city as they are unable to secure cheap accommodation – not even a room that they could afford.”
Apart from these group of people, Mohd Azizan said documentation was yet another problem that land rough sleepers where they are.
Pointing out to a young couple who sleep rough with their now five-month old child at Bangkok Bank, Kuala Lumpur – he explained that they had been there since the birth of the child to date every night. Although the couple have been advised to register the child for access to vaccination, it has been falling on deaf years as the couple may have not been legally wed.
“There’s a tale on-top if it. I don’t think they are married. We have given them pampers, baby products and comforters. A new addition to those who rough sleep at Bangkok Bank, the couple appeared only after the delivery of her child. Before that, we didn’t see them here. They aren’t around in the morning or afternoon’s either. Don’t know where they go. There was a YB the last time who promised to help – and requested that the couple register the baby, but nothing transpired. Every month – when we come around – the child is still there. Rough sleeping poses a serious danger for both sexes – be it male or female and being exposed to it from such a tender age is definitely harmful,” laments Dr Raja Ahmad Shaharul, co-founder of FFG who is also a family physician with Beacon International Specialist Centre.
FFG that began five-years ago by a group of ex-RMC students are among the many non-governmental organisations that actively reach out to the growing number of rough sleepers in the heart of Kuala Lumpur.
Refining their intentions and realising that rough sleepers suffer from inferiority complex and would not approach food trucks by non-governmental organisations that do static feeding, they walk and reach out from Cahaya Suria, Jalan Silang, Segi College and Bangkok Bank. From there, they would hop into their cars to Dataran Masjid Negara, Menara Jakel, Mydin and the last stop at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
By doing so, they not only distribute dried food as well as toiletries, but identify those in need of haircuts which is provided by FFG’s mobile barber team in addition to medical aid.
The downside of feeding rough sleepers
While these noble acts by all NGO’s involved beckons recognition for their good work, it has inevitably contributed towards wastage resulting in unsightly heaps of plastic food containers, mineral water bottles, canned drinks strewn about along the pavement and five-foot way.
“By midnight, there would have been a lot of feeding already. If we give more perishable food, they wouldn’t eat them and it goes to waste. When you have a lot of food which you can’t keep in a refrigerator, what do you do? Some are eaten – but aren’t finished and is strewn about. During Ramadan – the wastage is atrocious,” admits Raja.
Although NGO’s do their best in collecting littered food and packaging them into black bin bags, half-eaten or totally untouched food remains strewn about along the pavement of the street. This beckons one to conclude that it is not perishable food that these rough sleepers need.
However, Associate Professor Dr Amer Siddiq Amer Nordin with the Department of Psychological Medicine University Malaya Medical Centre is off the view that rough sleepers should be fed but it should be coordinated to avoid wastage.
“There are many instances that these people do need the assistance and some have a genuine mental illness which deters them from functioning and hence are on the streets. These people need all the assistance they can get,” he said.
Wrong for government to displace rough sleepers
On April 15, Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, who is also Women, Family and Community Development Minister, said 2,315 people have registered with the Kuala Lumpur Transit Centre for the Homeless since its opening in 2016.
She said Anjung Singgah, which was established by the National Welfare Foundation (YKN), has set up five Anjung Singgah shelters as social service centres to help tackle the issue of homelessness.
Prior to this, Hannah Yeoh, Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister revealed on March 27 at a parliament session that the National Welfare Foundation had recce Kuala Lumpur to get a head count of those sleeping rough.
Till 2018, she said that there were 799 people living along Jalan Lumut, Jalan Ipoh Kecil, Chow Kit Market, Bukit Bintang area, Kuala Lumpur Hospital and the State Mosque. Of these number, only 67 persons enrolled into Anjung Singgah from January – March 2019.
While these are interesting statistics, bitter reality remains – rough sleepers who had been there for months and years are still out there vulnerable to harsh conditions.
Mohd Azizan who strongly disagrees to displacing those sleeping rough to shelter homes argued that it is cruel to extract them from where they are accustomed to living and to put them elsewhere.
“Malaysia was the host for 2017 Sea Games. In preparation, the law enforcement unit from Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) dan Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat landed on August 1 at 12.30am to sweep clean the streets – carting away the homeless.”
“The Malaysian Law Enforcement Agency is not being smart about the cleaning proses. If they were moved to the PLKN camps in Semenyih and Kajang, then we should have considered until to what extent? Has they considered Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat, DBKL, Human Resource Department of ensuring skill? The law enforcement agencies really need to sit down and some NGO’s need to be part of the forum and panel committee to discuss.”
“Take them out of the streets and make sure they are given shelter, skills training and how to sustain life after. If you don’t reciprocate with a sustainable action plan, you are pushing them back to the streets again. The 70 that were taken off the streets in Dataran Masjid Negara – some of them returned after a while,” he said.
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