Homeless folk risk being infected


In dire straits: Vagabonds getting by the day hoping for kind souls to bring them their next meal at the Komtar bus terminal in George Town, Penang. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

DESPITE entering Phase Two of the National Recovery Plan, the Komtar bus terminal in Penang, is still home to some needy people with a handful of them spending their nights at the public place.

Some have also been spotted along Campbell Street, Upper Penang Road and several streets near Komtar in George Town.

There is fear that these people are at risk of contracting the deadly coronavirus, and that their welfare has been neglected.

Komtar assemblyman Teh Lai Heng said he was aware of the marginalised community, but pointed out that many of them were actually not homeless.

“Some of them have a home and come in the day to sit around to get free food. This is a never ending cycle.

“We tried to settle a batch of homeless people but a new batch appeared soon after.

“We are aware of the situation.

Vagrants hanging around at the Komtar bus terminal in George Town, Penang. — CHAN BOON KAI/The StarVagrants hanging around at the Komtar bus terminal in George Town, Penang. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

“For the homeless who want to be tested for Covid-19, they can do so at several locations under Penang’s mass Covid-19 screening programme. It is free.

“The state government is also coming up with a centralised system to streamline the food aid distribution process,” he said.

State welfare committee chairman Phee Boon Poh said the state government was also looking at setting up a mobile vaccination centre for the homeless in Penang.

“We had proposed to the Health Ministry a few months back to help in the vaccination of the homeless community.

“We have compiled necessary data on them in our i-Sejahtera which can be used to complement the ministry’s efforts.

“Due to the movement control order and the ruling on operating under appointment, the state Welfare Department is restricted to only non-operational duty and disaster management for the time being,” he said.

Phee noted that there had been an influx of vagrants in Penang, of about 200 to 300 individuals living on the streets.

Meanwhile, a security guard who works near the Komtar bus terminal said, good-hearted people would often drop by to hand out food and drinks throughout the day for the needy in the area.

“Many kind donors will come from morning to evening to distribute food to the vagrants.

The state government has compiled data on homeless individuals which can be used to complement the Health Ministry’s vaccination efforts.The state government has compiled data on homeless individuals which can be used to complement the Health Ministry’s vaccination efforts.

“By 8pm, the bus terminal will become very quiet with only about 20 to 30 people still around.

“These vagrants would usually leave the place by evening.

“I once saw an elderly man who came on his motorcycle in the morning and begged for food until evening.

“He took home a few packets of food,” he said.

In March last year, the Caring Society Complex became a temporary shelter for the homeless when the movement control order was first implemented.

The complex is now being used as a vaccination centre.

A transit centre in Jalan C.Y. Choy, George Town, to provide shelter for the homeless is expected to be completed by next year.

The RM4.4mil project will feature facilities and services for the homeless, including a shelter with 78 beds and some basic amenities for people with disabilities.

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