PETALING JAYA: Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Penang are baffled as to why there isn’t even a single government shelter for the homeless and needy in the state even though there are a large number of homeless people there.
NGO volunteers said there were possibly only two free-of-charge stay-in shelters and several day centres set up and managed by NGOs that provide for the needy and homeless in Penang.
The volunteers claimed the Penang state government had promised to build a shelter for the homeless and needy when they came into power but nothing had materialised so far.
To make matters worse, added the volunteers, the Federal Government had also been slow in responding to their pleas for a government shelter.
The Temple of Fine Arts’ Klinik Derma Sivasanta coordinator P. Murugiah said hundreds of homeless people could be found at places such as bus stops, five-foot ways, under bridges and on pedestrian crossings.
He added that half of the 70 or 80 needy patients treated by the clinic twice a week were homeless.
“The Government needs to build a shelter for the homeless and provide medical care for them,” he said.
Murugiah said the charity clinic collected and cremated 40 unclaimed bodies last year alone.
To a question as to why Penang seemed to have a high number of homeless people, Murugiah said it was because the state was densely populated with many senior citizens and some of them were neglected by their children.
A doctor in George Town, who declined to be named, said treating homeless patients was a futile effort as they would return to their terrible living conditions which aggravated their open wounds and other ailments.
“For the homeless, it is not enough just to treat their medical problems as their living conditions and environment need to be resolved as well,” he said.
The doctor narrated how a 45-year-old patient who first came with a wound in his toe, due to poorly controlled diabetes, had to have it (his toe) amputated after rats gnawed on the wound.
He said the patient’s condition continued to deteriorate after that.
“The last he came in, his leg below the knee had to be amputated,” he said.
He urged the Federal Government to step in and provide funds while the Penang state government identified the right location for a live-in centre for the homeless and hardcore poor.
A volunteer who only wanted to be known as James said the homeless were made up of vagrants, the mentally ill, drug addicts and youths from other states who could not find jobs or were cheated of their salaries.
“Half of them are those aged 50 and above and illiterate,” said James, who volunteers for Kawan, a drop-in centre for the homeless and needy in Penang.
“There is a sizeable number of elderly people and the government needs to set up a shelter quickly.”