Ending Homeless Struggles

Homelessness is a form of urban poverty and can be identified whenever people are forced to live in informal settlements under sub-par living conditions due to sudden changes in their living circumstances1. There are ‘primary homeless’ people who sleep on the streets without shelter, and there are the ‘secondary homeless’ who do not possess a permanent resident address and are constantly moving from one place to another2.

Countless soup kitchens, charity drives, and public donations have been established and new ones mushroomed to take care of the homeless in Klang Valley. Food packs and items are given to them, free medical clinics, pre-loved clothes and some organisations are even helping the homeless find jobs to ensure their financial independence. Yet, there are still people on the streets and the work is not complete.

Key Issues Affecting The Homeless In Klang Valley

Population And Perception Of The Homeless

There are no official nationwide statistics on the population of homeless. The majority of local councils are not able to determine the number of homeless as this population is constantly on the move and changing ‘homes’ frequently. The local council of Kuala Lumpur – DBKL managed to capture some data and the numbers have fluctuated over time. In 2010, there were 1,387 homeless persons³, in 2014, only 600 homeless persons were reported[4], in 2016, there was a massive increase up to 1500-2000 homeless persons⁴ and in 2017, 1037 homeless persons were recorded⁵.

  1. An in depth study by Thinkcity reported that in 2017, 15 hotspots in Kuala Lumpur were found. These hotspots are where the homeless usually gather and spend the night5. The study also found that the homeless community do look out for each other. Respondents stated that begging was the last resort for survival. Of this number, 90% of the homeless are Malaysian citizens and a majority of them are male, over 50 years old and in poor health. 
  2. The homeless population is incredibly vulnerable. Over 50% of the respondents unfortunately had once been a victim of crimes such as robbery or violent attacks. From the study respondents voiced their fear of authorities and police – possibly chasing them off the streets. The sad truth is that more than 50% of this group had had no contact with family and some were orphaned or abandoned5
  3. The homeless population is often misunderstood as lazy, dangerous and seen as substance abusers. But the same study reported that 75% of respondents neither use drugs nor alcohol; and those that did were not regular consumers5

Causes Of Homelessness

Different studies identify different factors contributing to the population. These include unemployment, poverty, old age and abandonment, substance abuse, mental and chronic illness and the lack of affordable housing³ . Currently, there are four main pathways that lead to homelessness; economic (insufficient income), interpersonal (domestic violence, family abandonment), housing structure (inability to afford housing), and individual (mental illness or criminal records)⁵.

  1. Economic factors are evident especially in cities where the cost of living is perpetually rising and it has a direct impact on the homeless population. Many of the homeless population either earn very little money or do not work. Their ability to afford basic necessities is far reaching. 
  2. With the inability to afford basic necessities, it is impossible for the homeless population to even think about housing options. Housing options that are close to public transport and connected to basic conveniences come with a high price. As a result, there is a rise in evictions, especially in the city5
  3. Other personal factors that put people on the streets include; chronic illness, addiction to substance, family tragedy, prostitution and lack of education.

Exploitation Of The Homeless

Whilst many homeless people are constantly looking for legal means to escape their current situation, there are those that take advantage of this population and their circumstance. Malaysia has a history of organised begging syndicates, situated in various hotspots throughout Malaysia’s cities utilising poor women, children and even disabled persons as beggars.

  1. In 2016, a mastermind behind an international human trafficking syndicate that exploited physically impaired beggars was found to have made an average of RM56,000 a month6. In 2018, a man and four women were caught manipulating foreign children into collecting donations for a religious cause7. The children would linger and sell from 7.00pm to 11.00pm every night and they were taught to target tourist hotspots like KLCC and Bukit Bintang, earning between RM80-90 a day7.  Beggars can earn hundreds in a day especially during the Ramadan season, and some have received up to RM1,000 per day in cash collection8. However, despite the scepticism and doubts, Malaysians have continued in generosity.

Hunger And Wasting Among The Homeless

One of the main struggles a homeless person faces is being able to afford food to continue living. However, in 2016, food wastage among the hopeless became a serious issue. As multiple organizations were distributing food to similar areas and there was not much coordination between organizations, one homeless person would receive more than they can consume⁹.

  1. The occurrence of food wastage led to some stopping all efforts to feed the homeless all together. Others changed the donations to hand out buns, bottled water, biscuits and snacks instead of ready-to-eat meals like noodles and nasi lemak9. In recent years, the government called for a stop to open distributions to the homeless as tourists were found to be lining up for the free food as well10. Whilst established changemakers narrowed down their efforts to individual distributions to accommodate for these changes, more homeless are being faced with hunger once again.

Changemakers

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