A heart for the homeless

A resident of the shelter folding one of the collapsible beds prepared for the homeless. — Filepic

HAVING rescued and sheltered dozens of homeless vagrants during the movement control order (MCO) period, Penang has a tough decision to make as the potential end of the MCO draws nearer.

The homeless people are temporarily housed in the function hall of Caring Society Complex.

“The temporary shelter is set to be closed once the MCO is lifted and the homeless will no longer be allowed to stay there.

“But the state does not have the heart to put them back on the streets.

“No way will we do that,” said state welfare and caring society committee chairman Phee Boon Poh.

“We worked hard to give them a sense of belonging and to practise good hygiene and housekeeping at the shelter.

“A sponsor recently went to serve them original Penang char koay teow. They loved it and have learned what it means to be in a home.”

He said when the MCO was imposed on March 18, the homeless were left in the lurch and ended up hiding from the police.

Hunger eventually drove many of them out on the streets again, waiting for Good Samaritans who give out free meals.

The state Welfare Department teamed up with Penang Buddhist Tzu Chi Merit Society Malaysia and Civil Defence Force to create the shelter and over 70 people were rescued from the streets.

Phee said that after he talked with them, many were persuaded to call their family members and went home.

“Everyone has problems. Some people have family disagreements to the point that they would rather leave home and live on the streets.

“We got them to open up and talk about their problems,” he said.

By mid-April, there were 38 residents left at the shelter and as of Tuesday, only 17 residents remained.

“We convinced some of them to enter old folks’ homes or charity nursing homes,” said Phee, adding that the state gave each of them RM200 pocket money when they left.

He said the state had been trying for a long time to take vagrants off the streets.

“In the past, they were afraid to be put in homes because they thought their lives would be restricted,” said Phee.

“It took the MCO for them to realise that being in a home is good for them,” Phee said.

He said that for the truly homeless who were not senior citizens, the state would try to get them units at the People’s Housing Project in River Road and find jobs for them.

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