Thursday, July 17, 2014

Homeless: Media must monitor goings-on closely

The media especially Harakah and English Section must follow closely what is happening and might happen in light of the various conflicting statements made by different ministers including the prime minister on the fate of the homeless in Kuala Lumpur.

“First it was the announcement of the immediate launch of Ops Qaseh, then it was made wrong to help the needy and the banishment of soup kitchens, and later it was publicized that the banishment was postponed until past Eid.

“Those are but a few of the statements we’ve heard recently, and everyone is up in arms over the proposed strong arm tactics involving the homeless,” said PAS information chief, Dato Mahfuz Omar when contacted recently.

Even the July 10 announcement made by the PM that a shelter to house the homeless was expected to be ready within six months would not calm fears especially among the homeless, as in a few days time, another statement could be released making the earlier statement obsolete altogether.

The plan to build shelters and one-stop centres, Mahfuz said, sounded good on paper,” but please complete it first before trying to convince the people that the government has only everyone’s best interests at heart”.

Get the stakeholders in this matter together especially the homeless at a discussion table and iron out the details involving the centres and shelters, the Kedah PAS commissioner stressed.

“Don’t forget, these people are not hoping and have not received a single sen of assistance from the government while they’ve lived on the streets”, he added.

“To me, all these statements made especially those by the federal territories minister, was very insensitive, especially in this blessed month of Ramadan. This is a month of giving, and yet you want everyone to stop helping the needy,” he told the Harakah Investigative Team (HIT).

“The worst idea I’ve ever heard of, was made by another minister, who wanted the rakyat to channel all their intended aid for the poor, to the government, so that the government could use it to assist the poor.”

“We’ve also heard from the ‘graduates’ of these larger one-stop centres that have already been in operation, and they complained of having nothing to do except eat and sleep and they were sick of it.”

“Once they were ‘released’,” he said,” they immediately returned to their former haunts and continued their habit as if nothing had changed”.

“Can’t the government, said to have the most number of ministers and deputy ministers in the world despite the small population of the country, plan and produce something that is thoroughly thought out and researched, instead of half-cooked measures”, he asked.

No follow up

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which attended the first meeting with the Federal Territories Ministry to help the homeless are unhappy over how the issue has been handled, including the deferment of the soup kitchen ban to after Hari Raya Aidilfitri.

While the ministry secretary-general Datuk Adnan Md Ikhsan had indicated that the meeting on Tuesday July 8 was a positive start, the NGOs were disappointed that there was no follow-up to it.

“We were supposed to meet with representatives from the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) July 9 but it was cancelled,” said Pertiwi Soup Kitchen founder Munirah Abdul Hamid, adding that there was no notification in regard to the next meeting, a report filed by a local daily said.

Munirah said the various parties should hold further talks instead of having lopsided meetings.

“We can’t just say that we have a solution that is idealistic. I think they (the authorities) are still figuring out how to go about the task.”

Dapur Jalanan Kuala Lumpur coordinator Abdulhadi Khalid also lamented that they had not heard of any future meetings with the ministry or DBKL.

“We will continue operating even if the ban is imposed after Hari Raya,” he said.

“Some see the homeless as an obstacle. They forget that these are real people with problems,” he said, the report said.

Homeless’ own centre

HIT, which had been roaming the streets of Kuala Lumpur almost daily ever since news regarding the crackdown on the homeless first broke out saw many curious and some positive developments in the last few days.

Among the curious developments were that previously unheard of organizations were seen giving out food to the needy especially on July 9, at approximately the same time the PM was attempting to cool down tempers in the homeless people debate, by going down the streets of Kuala Lumpur to meet the people of the streets in person.

The awkwardness and the newness of one of these so-called organizations to the soup kitchen activity was obvious as they had chosen to park their lorry on the side of a busy street, causing a massive traffic jam in the area.

The said organization also chose to distribute food at almost the same spot as another already established soup kitchen, and at almost the same time, causing confusion among the needy and homeless.

The situation also caused wastage, as some of the food provided, both by the established and the unheard of soup kitchen, were for immediate consumption and the homeless could only eat so much.

On stakeout several hours later at way past midnight, HIT observed a thin frail woman carrying a child and aimlessly walking to and fro for quite some time near Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

Worried about the health and safety of the small child, we immediately sprung into action and approached the woman to find out whether we could be of any service.

Alhamdulillah, there was nothing wrong with her child, it was just that the place they were sleeping for that night was too hot, stuffy and full of mosquitoes, and her four and a half year old daughter was finding it hard to go to sleep.

Asked where they were both sleeping that night, the mother replied, at our own shelter for the needy.

As this was news to us, we immediately sought to get more information on this shelter, and it was our fate that the homeless man running this ‘shelter’ sat immediately beside the mother.

Too busy

The man, who appeared to be in his sixties, wanted only to be known as ‘Pak Man’ said that he had been running the so-called shelter for years.

The Kedahan said that although the shelter was not proper, it had helped many over the years, and it had been the people of the area’s own ‘Anjung Singgah’.

He invited HIT to come and visit, and see for ourselves his effort to help those in the situation that he was.

We jumped at the chance and arrived at his ‘shelter’ about 15 minutes later.

Located in a depression behind a building, though it was not the best of construction, it was definitely better than sleeping on the streets.

Made out of wood and standing on stilts, it consisted of two rooms and a makeshift toilet, and was largely hidden from public view.

Pak Man said he had been living in the shelter with the others for decades, and it was now in its third reincarnation.

The original was much larger compared to now, which could house less than ten people, but was carried away in a flood that occurred some time ago, he said.

After being rebuilt, the new one was, years later, gutted in a fire, he added.

“Building this one and the previous ones was not easy, but we, the homeless persevered and did it.

“To me, it feels as if it was only in these last few weeks that the government has realized the existence of the homeless and needy, and was now planning something, whether good or bad, for us.

If those in power had come many years earlier, he said, many lives could have perhaps been saved.

I was offered a home under the Housing Project for the Hardcore Poor (PPRT) some time back, but the offer expired as I did not submit the forms in time.

“How could I, as I am not literate and when I went to the relevant agency to get assistance in getting the forms filled, they turned me away, saying they were too busy to help me out,” he explained, matter of factly.

No comments: