PETALING JAYA: Social workers have lashed out at the ban on soup kitchens in Kuala Lumpur city centre, terming the move cruel and ineffective.
Pertiwi Soup Kitchen founder Munirah Abdul Hamid said soup kitchens provided a guarantee of a decent meal for the homeless and hard-core poor in the city.
"Some of them can only buy one packet of iced coffee, which they sip throughout the whole day.
"People with low wages, the hard-core poor trying to make ends meet in the city - these are the ones we are helping," she added.
On Tuesday, Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor announced that soup kitchens would not be allowed within a two kilometre-radius of Lot 10.
He said the activity encouraged people to remain homeless and jobless, with an added result of litter and disease-carrying scavengers.
Munirah rubbished talk that soup kitchens caused littering, and said she was prepared to meet Kuala Lumpur mayor Datuk Seri Ahmad Phesal Talib to prove her point.
"Datuk Bandar, we have trash cans and volunteers to clean up after we distribute food to the homeless, so Pertiwi always leaves the donation area cleaner than when we found it!" she said.
According to the 64-year-old, Pertiwi sometimes arrives to set up their soup kitchen even before Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) had cleaned the dirty surroundings.
But the ban is nothing new, Munirah added.
Prior to this, Pertiwi was not allowed entry into the "impenetrable" Bukit Bintang area.
"We did try to feed the poor there back in 2010. We could see people living around the monsoon drains, but we were not allowed in," she said.
The ban is also reportedly aimed at reducing the culture of begging, which Tengku Adnan blamed for tarnishing the City's image.
"Beggars who are part of syndicates are not the people we feed. These beggars don't even line up for our food - once they are done (begging for the day), the syndicates just take them and go off," said Munirah.
She said they had attempted to explain the difference to Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim.
Rohani commented that efforts to solve the problem of homeless people were hampered by NGOs who "pampered" them with free food.
"Who wants to be homeless? People are just lining up for clean water and a simple meal. It's taken a while for NGOs to earn their trust - don't sweep it all away with this ban," Munirah cautioned.
Zuhri Yuhyi, a social worker with Muslim NGO Mercy Mission, said the Ministry should handle the issue in a more tactful and strategic manner.
Tengku Adnan had said that soup kitchens had not been officially notified of the ban, but a meeting would be held to discuss it with them soon.
"Soup kitchens have been around for many years. It would be helpful if NGOs were briefed and enlisted to plan together with the Government," said Zuhri.
The Homeless Cafe coordinator added that those who visit their soup kitchen at Anjung Singgah, a crisis centre at Jalan Hang Lekiu, were not the same beggars spotted on the streets.
"The ones who come to us have odd jobs and a meagre income. We eat with them and get to know them better. Soup kitchens aid their survival," said the 33-year-old.
Zuhri remains hopeful for a positive outcome, and urged all involved to have greater empathy for the plight of the less fortunate.