WHEN the Covid-19 pandemic hit the country, marginalised communities such as the homeless and hardcore poor were the worst affected.
The pandemic proved to be a “crisis within a crisis” as many lost access to services that provided food and shelter among other necessities.
In Kuala Lumpur, the Welfare Department and Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL), among other agencies, rescued about 800 homeless people from the streets during the movement control order in April.
DBKL set up temporary shelters at 10 community centres and multipurpose halls, in addition to two transit centres — Pusat Transit Gelandangan in Jalan Pahang and Anjung Singgah in Jalan Hang Lekiu — to house them in a bid to prevent community spread of Covid-19.
The demographic of the homeless rescued included locals abandoned by their families, the sick, the poor, those suffering from mental illness, drug addicts, alcoholics, those who lost their jobs as well as foreigners.
During their stay at the shelters, they underwent psychological and counselling sessions with counsellors from Kuala Lumpur Welfare Department besides training programmes to help them become independent.
DBKL spent over RM1mil to set up temporary transit centres, provide food and carry out various programmes since then.
In June, Federal Territories Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa said 300 of them secured jobs with private companies while another 200 attended a month-long training course in Sepang before gaining employment with DBKL.
He also said they found 30% of the homeless unsuitable to be employed due to mental illness, old age or because they had drug addiction problems and were sent to centres where they would be looked after.
However, once MCO measures were eased in July, DBKL discovered that some of the homeless returned to the streets. Their numbers now include those from the B40 group.
The then Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Nor Hisham Dahlan had said that with job losses due to the pandemic, many people came to the city to find work.
He said there was not much that DBKL could do as the management of the homeless was under the jurisdiction of the Welfare Department, which is parked under the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.
Nor Hisham said ideally, shifting the responsibility of managing the homeless community to local authorities would lead to a more sustainable solution in the long run.
“In many countries and cities around the world, the issue of homelessness falls under the purview of City Hall but that is not the case here.
“So DBKL can only provide assistance to the necessary agencies and departments when required, ” he added.