Bridge over troubled times

Loi (right) having a chat with her friend who is also homeless but lives elsewhere in George Town. — Photos: CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

HOME for her is the four-legged overhead pedestrian bridge near Komtar, Penang. She showers and does her laundry in public washrooms.

For the past month, Loi Meng Chee, 59, has been spending her nights on the bridge locally called octopus or spider bridge.

Loi deems the bridge ‘cleaner’ and ‘safer’ than anywhere else she has spend the night.

Loi, from Butterworth, lost her job as a cleaner many years ago and eventually ended up living on the streets.

“I’ve lost count of the days but I recall shifting between several places on the mainland and island.“The streets on the island are cleaner and more comfortable than other sites.

“I once rented a cheap room in George Town that was full of pests.“I moved out and slept underneath Komtar. There are many homeless people there too and the authorities frequently raid the place.

“Last month, while living in Komtar, I was robbed and attacked. I lost all my personal documents.

“After that, I decided to move up onto the pedestrian bridge which is bright at night and safer from criminals,” she said.

Loi said she lodged a police report over the robbery and

was waiting for her new MyKad from National Registration Department.

“It’s not my wish to live on the streets but without my MyKad, people are not willing to rent out a room to me.

“I’ll look for a job and secure a better place to live in after getting the new MyKad.

“I received offers from non- government organisations giving me a place to stay but I prefer to have my own freedom by working and renting my own place,” she said.

Loi, whose husband passed away years ago, said friends still help her with her basic needs but she lost contact with her four children.

She was seen picking up trash and sweeping her corner clean on the bridge.

“Workers who keep the bridge clean allowed me to use their brooms in the storeroom to clean the place whenever I needed to.

“Food waste will attract pests and I want to contribute without being a nuisance here,” she said.

Several other homeless people were spotted there too. One of them, who was ‘not home’, had cordoned off a neat corner beneath one of the staircases.

Komtar assemblyman Teh Lai Heng said once construction of the transit centre for the homeless in Jalan C.Y. Choy was completed, it would drastically solve the problems of the homeless.

“The RM4.4mil project will have a shelter with 78 beds and amenities for people with disabilities.

“There will also be healthcare and leisure facilities, a laundry area and a recycling centre.

“The project is expected to be completed by August and fully operational a few months after that,” he said.

In the meantime, Teh hopes Penang Island City Council will be more proactive in maintaining the overhead bridge.

“We will report any problems on the bridge.

“I’ve proposed allowing the Village Community Management Councils to organise activities on the bridge or letting vendors rent space on the bridge to trade.

“That way, those who legally occupy it will act as ears and eyes while their activities will attract more people to use the bridge,” he said.

In 2015, the bridge underwent a RM6mil upgrading process including the relocation of utility cables, building of three escalators and four lifts plus installation of LED lights and security cameras. The bridge roofs were also upgraded.

Mydin Wholesale Emporium director Datuk Dr Saduruddin Gulam Husen, whose store is located in Penang Road nearby, urged the council to upkeep the the bridge.

“The lifts are filthy and it is sad to see the homeless settling on the bridge, drying their clothes on the rails and storing their belongings under the bridge’s staircase,” he said.

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