To save a life is a real and beautiful thing. To make a home for the homeless, yes, it is a thing that must be good; whatever the world may say, it cannot be wrong. – Vincent Van Gogh
THE COVID-19 is not just a health crisis but it brought tremendous changes not only Malaysia facing the impact on political, social and economy robustly but also in global phenomenon.
Presently, COVID-19 really slammed our society bringing inequality divide on distribution of income with those that have the resources or alternative means continue to survive and others who are less fortunate, facing difficulties and in the end living in homelessness and poverty.
Astonishingly, Malaysia is facing the ‘poverty’ rate up to about 8.8 percent in the country. It is estimated over 608,000 households (nearly 2.5 million people) in Malaysia are living below RM2,000 a month.
What a devastating fact whereby, Kelantan, Kedah and Sabah are the largest portions of citizens that suffer poverty crisis.
As a matter of fact, poverty does not happen in rural area but it does happen in urban or city areas such as Kuala Lumpur, Klang Valley and other parts of Malaysia.
Median incomes and living costs in Klang Valley are among the highest in the country, the number of households living under RM2,000 a month is 19,828 households that comprise of an estimated 85,000 people in Malaysia.
Due to poverty issue faces by some Malaysians forcing these poor people end up tragically living on the street.
Homelessness is defined as 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 circumstances.
In fact, 90% of the homeless people are Malaysians not foreigners, they are victims of situations and do not live on the streets by their own choice.
Factors that contribute to Homelessness
It is disheartening fact to see Malaysia as one of the developing countries is having this social problem for several years.
The sights of homeless people not only brought sore eyes among the society but also tarnishing the image of Malaysia in the eyes of the tourists and visitors.
Now, there are various ill factors contributing to the catastrophe which are due to domestic abuse, unemployment, mental problem, ex-convict, chronic illnesses, being abandoned, family rejection as some are involved in drug abuse, ageism, disable and poverty.
One of the major factors is unemployment or being retrenched in the period of COVID-19. This pressure the family and cause them to abandon, outcast or isolate the individual resorting the last option by opting out and sleeping in the pathway.
Moreover, the high cost of living and the rise of price of housing contributes to the problem of affordability in buying the house thus increasing the percentage of homeless people, struggling sorrowfully to live on the dampen cold streets. This reminds of the classic song by Phil Collins “Another Day in Paradise,” on the homeless people.
Fostering a better understanding in eradicating Homelessness and Poverty
Basically, there are misperception of homelessness that involves only beggars, foreigners, and undocumented persons only.
In reality bites, Malaysians are the highest percentage where it comprised of male of 50 years old and in the state of poor health condition.
Hence, it is a detrimental sosio-economic problem that requires not only fostering better understanding but also poverty eradication programmes have to be implemented seriously for economic salvation.
In other words, this provoking issue is an awakening call, should not be taken lightly as it not only portrays the Malaysian economy but also reflects the image of the country.
Fundamentally, if the problem is not handled properly, it will boost the percentage of homeless abundantly as the nation is still recovering from the economic slowdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The government should provide more employment opportunities equally for all Malaysians and reduce discrimination against homeless people by some employers exploiting them paying them below minimum wage.
Instead, homeless community should be given an equal chance to work and contribute for the nation. Besides, whenever they have jobs, it will somehow help the poor and homeless in sustaining their cost of living and able to buy a house or rent to live.
During the onslaught of COVID-19, house prices increased by 0.3% on average. According to the National House Buyers Association’s (HBA) Secretary-General Chang Kim Loong stated that “The terrifying issue of homelessness had marked up to 80 percent of the population cannot afford to buy their own properties, is beginning to take root,” adding an ironic misfortune as affordable housing is already out of reach for even middle-income households.
Primarily, the government and developers have to implement sustainable efforts increase the supply of low-cost houses and home protection scheme for the Malaysians so that they can afford to buy a house rather than to live on the street sleeping in agony and misery on the street.
The difficulty and rigid regulations imposed for applying loans from the financial institutions is another problem that brought distress and despair for Malaysians in hoping to buy a house for their basic essentials and life security; eventually leading them to impoverished conditions.
How bizarre, there has not been extensive research on homelessness in Kuala Lumpur or Malaysia. Consequently, there are no policies or guidelines on homelessness, so the homeless are likely to be excluded from proper benefits or assistance.
For that matter, instilling awareness, empathy, and exposure on this issue should be heightened profusely by utilising the platforms and resources such as organising fruitful seminars, webinars, forum, debates, presentations of journal and discussion on radio and electronic media on this hype topic of Malaysian economy, poverty and homelessness issue among the scholars, academicians, government and NGO.
Immensely, from the activities, information is disseminated profusely cultivating Malaysian public as a well informed and concerned society.
Formation of policies and government’s measures will be derived, effective solutions in solving the problem of poverty and reducing the rate of homelessness will be developed at the very grassroots level.
Remedies to the Homelessness crisis
Indeed, the government already has initiatives movement by setting up transit centres or hostels known as Anjung Singgah as a temporary shelter for the homeless people.
Nevertheless, the increasing number of homeless also reflects the worrying threat of poverty.
Malaysian people are known for being compassionate and care towards misfortunate people. Therefore, their social welfare should be taken account as they are part of the Malaysian citizens.
Thus, by showering ample care, compassionate and avoid discriminating homeless are vital; as the need of attention, emotional support, hope and opportunity to enliven their spirit, rebound and be independent in facing their struggles despite resisting to the challenges, leaps and bound in overcoming the social stigma and discrimination by Malaysian society.
Something to ponder, well there are various of ways in which non-profit organisations such as Kechara Soup Kitchen and Batik Boutique are contributing vastly in curbing the homelessness crisis. These organisations do organise soup kitchens and help by providing jobs for the homeless people.
The social responsibility and kindness should come from everyone, the government, public, charitable and other non-governmental organisations (NGO) in helping them giving hope and opportunity for them to be self-reliant rather than depending on welfare aid or charity.
Answering to the calls, workforce skills should be provided by the government and the NGO for the homeless people in enhancing and preparing for their work employability. Some homeless are creative, they can earn a profitable income by selling their craftmanship.
Free meals food, medical treatment, supplies and donations such as used clothes or shoes are essential necessities that we Malaysians can offer as a helping hand for them in not only supporting their daily lives but also ensuring that they live in a safer hygienic state.
Constitutionally, these actions are in line with supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as propagated in Malaysia that are SDG’s 1, No Poverty, SDG’s 2, Zero Hunger, SDG’s 3 preserving the Good Health and Well-being and SDG’s10, reducing inequalities.
Malaysia is moving and targeting zero poverty by the year 2025. Well in the essence of that, it is hope by addressing the homelessness and poverty issue, it’s not just a rhetoric or seasonal movement for the winds of change but the efforts has to be continued conscientiously and supported by Malaysians in combating the sosio-economic problem.
This is crucial to create a more equitable Malaysian society in prolonging the bonds of unity, goodwill, tolerace and harmony for the better nation envisioned by our Prime Minister in line with MADANI concept. – DagangNews.com
Norazlinda Hj Mohammad is a Senior Lecturer, Communication and Media Studies, College of Computing, Informatics and Media Studies, Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Melaka Branch