Many of the homeless yearn to lead an ordinary life but with stiff competition from illegal immigrants, work is hard to come by.
AFTER hearing of the proposed plans by the authorities to round up the homeless in Kuala Lumpur, Chong, 30, has been keeping a low profile.
“Why does the government want to catch us and on top of that punish the nice people who help us? They should be catching criminals instead,” laments Chong, an unemployed man who started living on the streets two weeks ago after losing his job.
“If the government sets up a place that offers legitimate work for people like me, I would surrender myself to them. You will see a long line of homeless people queuing outside,” he says while having a free lunch at Carl’s Kitchen, a soup kitchen run by the Archdiocesan Office for Human Development.
Chong was a restaurant worker who lived in a hostel in Ampang but after his employer closed shop two weeks ago, he became jobless and could no longer afford his accommodation. Having been forced onto the streets, he now sleeps “wherever” in KL and depends on the generosity of others to survive.
“The government should not round us up and then assign work to us. That’s like a prison.
“It’s not that we don’t want to work. Most of us are trying very hard to find work but it’s not easy when we have to compete with foreigners who demand very little pay.
“It’s miserable living like this. All I do is eat one meal and wait around until I can find more food. I feel like a wandering ghost,” he says.
On Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s plan to build shelters for the homeless where they could sleep and shower, Chong hopes it will happen.
But, he says, “There’s no point for people living in such shelters if they are still unemployed.”
He hopes the government would also increase job opportunities for people with less qualification.
Chong says the government should also deport, and prevent the entry of, illegal immigrants.
“We are competing for jobs with the Bangladeshis, Burmese and Nepalese who demand very little pay. Everywhere you go now, you will see foreigners doing our jobs. They are the ones sweeping the roads and waiting at tables in restaurants.
“Even Petaling Street is no longer Chinatown, it’s become Banglatown,” he says, adding that he used to earn between RM60 and RM70 selling watches there.
“These immigrants can survive on wages like RM800 a month because when they bring the money home and convert it (to their currency), it becomes a decent sum.
“But we live here and can’t go anywhere. We need more money than them to survive. Because of this, employers would rather hire them.”
Aluai Hassan, 49, who has been homeless for nine years, says he felt he was treated like cattle when he was picked up by DBKL officials about six months ago.
“They rounded up a couple of us who were sleeping on the streets and made us climb like goats into the back of a truck. They drove us up to the DBKL office and we sat there for a while for no reason. We were released at about 4am and had to walk all the way back.”
Aluai dreads being caught again as it was not a pleasant experience.
“If the government can help us get work, just open your doors and we will go to you,” he promises.
Hassan, who left his home state of Kelantan for KL after having family problems, says he has been trying to find legitimate work with contractual agreements after being cheated by employers many times.
“I have dreams like everyone else. I want to work, I want to get married and I want to buy a car. But work is hard to come by, especially when employers prefer to hire immigrants,” he says.
Wan Izzat, 35, used to spray-paint cars for a living but after a spat with his employer, he has been jobless and homeless for the past three months.
“I don’t think the authorities should catch us and round us up in one place, then give us work. It feels like we are forced into jail.
“It’s not like they can catch everyone anyway as more and more people are forced onto the streets every day.
“I don’t want to be caught, so I’m going to be careful and keep my head low for the month. If they could just help us find work, that would be better,” he says.
Alvin Santhanam, coordinator of Carl’s Kitchen, shares the sentiment of his homeless “clients”.
“Why do they round them up? Why are they making it an operation with the police involved?
“Why can’t it just be a situation where the Welfare Department has a team of people who visit and talk to the homeless and poor? Has anybody really talked to these people rather than just rounding them up and telling them that this is what’s best for them?
“All they want is simple conversation, not ‘Who are you? Where’s your IC? Are you Malaysian?’”