By Noel Achariam and Nabihah Hamid | The Malaysian Insight
Operators of soup kitchens in Kuala Lumpur have voiced concerns that the homeless community in the city is choosing to go hungry out of fear of being arrested, following an increase in raids ahead of the Sea Games next month.
A smaller number of the homeless and destitute have been turning up at feeding stations run by several charitable organisations, which claim that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) and the Social Welfare Department (JKM) are conducting raids to “clear out the streets”.
Dapur Jalanan Kuala Lumpur said during a visit to the heart of the capital to hand out food last week, only 90 people showed up. It usually handles close to 200 people at its stall.
The group’s coordinator, Quratulain Atiqah, said the homeless were afraid they would be detained, adding that many have gone into hiding.“We were told by the homeless that DBKL has issued a notice that soup kitchens are only allowed to distribute food at two designated places. The raids by the authorities have increased.
“This happened before when former president (US) Barack Obama was to visit Malaysia. The authorities then started rounding up the homeless,” she told The Malaysian Insight.
Malaysia will host the Southeast Asian Games on August 17.
Another charitable organisation Pertiwi Soup Kitchen, which provides food four times a week in the city, said there has been a decline of about 200 homeless to their stalls.
“We usually give out about 750 packets of food, but recently only 550 packs were taken,” said Pertiwi chairman Munirah Abdul Hamid.
A check around the city found that most of the usual spots where the homeless converge and sleep are now empty.
Shaliza Ahmad, 39 who has been sleeping on the streets for the last three years said she is constantly moving around to avoid the authorities.
“My husband and I can’t even get decent rest. We have to be on the lookout. If we see the authorities, then we will run as fast as we can,” she said.
The woman from Kedah said she has to fend for her three children and that’s the reason she came to Kuala Lumpur to look for a job.
“I used to work as a waitress and dish washer, but I was cheated out of my salary.
“That’s how I ended up on the streets. My youngest child is only nine months old and he is living with my grandfather in Kedah.”
Shaliza said her husband lost his job as a security guard and that why they are homeless.
Another homeless person Pang Yoke Kong, 60, said he doesn’t want to get caught as he is trying to collect enough money to return to his village in Kuantan.
“I’m working as an illegal parking attendant and trying to save enough money to return home. I have no choice but to sleep anywhere,” he said, showing the pavement where he has slept for the last two years.
A contractor, who only wanted to be known as Ong, said the authorities were rounding up the homeless and sending them to the Pusat Sehenti Bina Diri detention centre in Sg Buloh.
Ong said he often employed some of the homeless to work at construction sites.
“Two of the homeless who were working for me got caught last week and sent to the detention centre in Sg Buloh.
“When I went to take them out, the authorities there said I could only visit them but can’t bail them out”, he said.
Efforts by The Malaysian Insight to contact JKM to visit the detention centre in Sg Buloh were futile.
An officer at the centre said that a written permission from the JKM is required to visit the place.