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Should You Be Giving Money To The Homeless?

What do you do when you see a homeless person or beggar on the street? Do you turn a blind eye? Deliberately walk to the other side of the road? Or do you pull out some loose change and give it to them without giving it a second thought?

It is not uncommon to have some lingering doubt or skepticism about giving money to the homeless person or the beggar on the street. These doubts are there because of the stories we are fed with or the things people say about the homeless and beggar on the street. 

So, should you give money to the homeless? Is this the best way to be helpful? 

Source: The Star

Homelessness is a pressing issue in Malaysia, with thousands of men, women, and children living on the streets, especially in urban areas. They could have ended up in that situation because of various reasons – unemployment, poverty, old age and abandonment, substance abuse, physical disabilities, mental and chronic illness and the lack of affordable housing[1]. 

These people have lost their homes, their income, thus severely dampening their chances of ever getting back on their feet. Trapped in a cycle of homelessness and unemployment, many are left with no choice but to take to the streets and ask for spare change from passers-by. 

Dark Secrets Of The Homeless 

Source: Unsplash

Unfortunately, there are those that take advantage of this and use the homeless narrative for personal gain. 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. 

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 month. After “saving” those with disabilities, the syndicate tricked them into begging on the streets for money. They were between 21 to 53 years old and the beggars work specific shift hours from 6.30am to 11.30am and 6.30pm to 11.30pm [2]

Source: Unsplash

On good days, beggars earn about RM700 per day. The beggars then had to pay RM50 daily to the syndicate for accommodation and transport to their designated begging spots. The syndicate earned money from the beggars by demanding up to RM4000 per beggar on a monthly basis. The Malaysian police cracked down on this syndicate and he was eventually caught and the beggars were placed in shelter homes[2].

There was a similar case in 2018 where a man and four women were caught manipulating foreign children into collecting donations for a religious cause. Young ones sold packet tissues with Quran verses on them at high prices. 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 them RM80-RM90 a day[3].

While we would like to give people the benefit of doubt and give sincerely to those in need of money, we also cannot ignore the stories in the press. According to a news article, it was purported that beggars can earn hundreds in a day and during the Ramadhan season, they can possibly receive up to RM1,000 per day in cash collection[5].

Source: The Star

These syndicates were not just in the big cities in the country, but also in smaller states such as Kelantan. It was previously reported that a syndicate was utilising children as young as four years old and women to beg. They would rotate from different begging hotspots to avoid prosecution[4].  

…I also ask for some money from the public here. Kelantan folks are known for their generosity, and they would normally spare some change for us. – A beggar from Kelantan[4]

But you don’t have to be a part of an organisation to use homelessness for personal gain. A 2014 survey by researchers from Florida International University & University Malaysia identified that whilst the vast majority of beggars were struggling with financial difficulties, 25% admitted they spent some of the money on alcohol and drugs[5]. However, it is important to note that the survey only interviewed 24 people and it may not represent the complete picture. 

Regardless, it is unfortunate that poverty and the homeless narrative have been tarnished. It serves no good especially to those who are really in need – because they too will eventually be second-guessed.

Prof Syed Omar Syed Agil, a director of a branding and marketing company had similar doubts when a homeless lady tapped on his car window at 1.00am. After giving her money, he followed her to see what she would use the money for. Only to find that she used the money to buy food for her family[6]

It was really heartbreaking. She had actually been truthful. ..I was shocked and thought, what if I hadn’t given the money or had used another route? The family would have slept hungry that night. – Prof Syed Omar Syed Agil.

Unless we commit time and effort to get to know these people, we have no way of knowing whether they are really in need or not. The government has even suggested that we stop giving altogether[5]and even moved to ban soup kitchens providing food to the homeless[7]

Never Stop Giving! Always More Than One Way To Help

Source: The Edge

However, despite the scepticism and doubts, Malaysians have been and continue to be generous in their giving. We have seen this in the umpteen donation drives, individual and NGO led initiatives to raise funds, distribute food and other efforts to help the homeless. 

Ultimately long-term solutions are necessary to get people off the streets and into proper permanent shelters, empower them with self-sustaining jobs and restore their dignity to life a meaningful life.

There will be no guarantee once the money leaves your pocket and into the homeless hands. Certain situations call for cash and your discernment is needed. However, if you don’t feel comfortable giving away cash, there are other ways to help in the moment:

  1. Give them ready to eat meals: Giving them food is the best way to show care. They need nutrition for sustenance. Instead of buying one meal for them, strike a deal with a nearby restaurant and have them prepare a packet of food every day for a week. 
  2. Prepare a care package for them: Items in your care package will help them survive on the streets with a bit more comfort. Examples of things you can put in a care package are; dry food items that are ready to eat, bottled water, toiletries, sanitary items (if given to a woman), clothes, towel, socks, pillow and perhaps even a personal note. 
  3. Inform a local NGO: Ultimately you want people off the streets and into permanent shelters. NGOs such as soup kitchens may be too busy to notice movements of the homeless and it would help if you provided them with the location and some photos. If the homeless cannot get to the NGOs, maybe the NGOs can get to them. 
  4. Donate and volunteer with verified organisations that have experience in assisting the homeless: There are numerous changemakers making great strides in helping the homeless and needy. Get in touch with them and support them with your financial resources. Participate in feeding programs and offer your expertise and time. We have listed some NGOs in the ‘Homeless in Malaysia’ article and you can also check out Wiki Impact’s Changemakers Map

Explore Our Sources:

  1. Wiki Impact. (2021). Homelessness in Malaysia. Link.
  2. K. Tee. (2016). High Living Beggar Syndicate Mastermind Nabbed. Malay Mail. Link.
  3. The Sun Daily. (2018). Police Rescue 11 Kids from KL based Begging Syndicate. Link.
  4. S. M. Abdullah. (2018). Begging Syndicates in Kelantan Using Children of Foreigners as New Tactic. New Straits Times. Link.
  5. D. Azmi. (2019). Contradictheory: To give or not to give when beggars approach? The Star. Link.
  6. M. Kau. (2019). Those who call the streets of Kuala Lumpur home. Free Malaysia Today. Link.
  7. M. M. Chu. (2014). The Government Does Not Want You To Give Money To Beggars In KL. Says. Link.

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