KUALA Lumpur’s homeless population is expected to increase as businesses find it tough to keep afloat and retain staff, resulting in people losing their jobs and ending up on the streets.
In anticipation of a rise in the number of homeless, it is learned that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) is now planning to open up two more community centres for the homeless.
This is to ensure that no one ends up without a roof over their heads while the movement control order (MCO) is being enforced.
Currently there are two transit centres --- in Jalan Pahang and Anjung Singgah in Jalan Hang Lekiu, Kuala Lumpur.
There are also four community centres and multipurpose halls under DBKL currently housing the homeless.
These are the Sentul Perdana and Setiawangsa community centres, as well as the Alam Damai Cheras and Tasik Ampang Hilir multipurpose halls, which have been turned into temporary shelters.
“We cannot confirm if there is going to be an increase of homeless people but we have been observing that more and more people are turning up at our community centres during the MCO, ” said a DBKL spokesman.
“So we have opened three more community centres, in Kepong, Bandar Tasik Selatan and Jalan Masjid India last week, to accommodate more people.
“One centre is specifically for those who have flu symptoms and are monitored by Health Ministry officials.”
According to the spokesman, DBKL rescued about 510 homeless people two weeks ago but the number surged to 700 in just a few days.
“We expect more to come. People are losing their jobs every day, especially those working in small businesses and factories, and there are cases of landlords chasing tenants out for not being able to pay rent, ” he said.
“Some employers are asking their staff to take unpaid leave and return to their hometowns.
“With no salary, they are ending up on the streets as many have no means of paying rent and bills.
“Instead of staying out in the open and being exposed to the virus, it is better that they remain in one spot where they can be monitored.”
It is learned that a team of officers was despatched to ensure that no one was left wandering the city’s streets.
DBKL officers, manning the centres, also reported of people just showing up at the centre looking for food and a place to sleep.
“We cannot take them in without them undergoing medical screening, so we send them to the screening centres to get tested first, ” said the officer.
StarMetro managed to speak to two individuals who recently lost their jobs at a factory.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the two men from Sabah said they had no money to go home and were running low on cash.
“I may have to go to the DBKL shelter if I run out of money and if my landlord kicks me out. The landlord keeps threatening to do that, ” said the 40-year-old.
“We hope the government will end the MCO soon so that we can go back to work, ” added his friend.
StarMetro reported that DBKL staff with help of the police, Kuala Lumpur Welfare Department and Malaysian Red Crescent Society, worked round the clock to gather the homeless and their families from the streets and transport them to the shelters.
Efforts to gather them started on March 26, and it is an ongoing endeavour.
Fourteen hotspots of the homeless were identified, mainly in Masjid Negara, Kotaraya and Central Market.
Other areas were Menara Maybank, Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Jalan Masjid India, Masjid Jamek and Kuala Lumpur Sentral.
The demographic of the homeless rescued included locals abandoned by their families, the sick, the poor, those suffering from mental illness, drug addicts, alcoholics and those who recently lost their jobs as well as some foreigners.
Currently the people seeking shelter are provided a mattress, a cubicle for privacy, blankets and meals six times a day.
Homeless undergo therapyMeanwhile, rescued homeless folk also undergo psychological and counselling sessions with counsellors from Kuala Lumpur Welfare Department (JKM).
“There are seven of us who take turns to counsel those undergoing anxiety and stress, ” said JKM Psychology and Counseling department head Nuridawati Mohd Noor.
“They are okay physically but mentally, they suffer from anxiety and stress as they are taken out of their comfort zone and placed into shelters.
“The counsellors here are tasked to help the community cope with anxiety during this period.”
She said the programme was called psychological support intervention for the homeless.
“It starts with psychoeducation, which is sharing the information on Covid-19 cases, and then sharing information on the
MCO in the city, including the statistics as well as the initiatives we have put in place for them, ” she said.
Nuridawati said despite all the publicity on Covid-19, the homeless were unaware of what was happening and the seriousness of the situation.
“Part of the programme is educating them and then we work towards reducing their anxiety.
“For the psychotherapy sessions, we teach them breathing techniques and art therapy to reduce anxiety and express emotion. We don’t know how long they are going to be here, so it is important we prepare them for that, ” she said.