PETALING JAYA: A coalition of 19 non-governmental organisations (NGO) on Tuesday called upon the Government to abolish the Destitute Persons Act 1997, alleging it is used to detain the homeless without trial.
"The Act allows the Government to round up and forcefully detain the homeless in rehabilitation centres. Detainees are denied legal representation, as well as the opportunity to appeal the Magistrate's Court," said Yasmin Masidi, Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor's (Empower) communications and media officer in a statement, on behalf of the coalition.
Michelle Yesudas, spokesperson for Lawyers for Liberty, said the homeless would then be presented to a Magistrate, and could be detained for a period ranging from 30 days to three years.
"During this time, they do not have the right to a lawyer or get in touch with friends or family members.
"The criminalisation of a person's existence because they are poor is not right," she said during a press conference at the Dignity International office here.
Empower president Janarthani Arumugam said the Act oppresses the discriminated urban poor further.
"They are already treated badly by the Government and authorities. Society also stereotypes them, making the situation even harder for them," she said.
She said Social Welfare Department records show there are a total of 1,375 homeless people in Malaysia at the moment, and more than 90% of them were Malaysians.
"Many of them have jobs but are homeless because they cannot afford homes or rooms with their low-paying jobs," she said.
Dapur Jalanan's Adam Adli said there were many myths and untruths relating to the homeless, among them the belief that they were hostile and caused the spread of infectious diseases.
Another myth was that they were homeless as they were lazy to find a living.
Adam said most did not want Government handouts, and instead asked for the chance to work in other states or affordable homes for those on minimum wage.
The 19 NGOs in the coalition are the Brickfields Stakeholders Association, CFC, Dapur Jalanan, Dignity International, Food Not Bombs Kuala Lumpur, Kaseh4u, KL Urban Fellowship, Institute Rakyat, Lawyers for Liberty, The Nasi Lemak Project, Need to Feed the Need, Pax Romana ICMICA, Empower, Reach Out Malaysia, Region of Love, Salt Movement, Suara Rakyat Malaysia, Ubuntu Malaysia and the Malaysian Indian Education Transformation Association.
Last week Thursday, Federal Territories Minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor ordered all soup kitchens within a 2km radius of the Lot 10 shopping centre in the city to move out.
He also said that KL City Hall (DBKL) would impose a fine of RM150 to those who fed the homeless.
On Tuesday, Ministry secretary-general Datuk Seri Adnan Md Ikshan said the ban would be deferred until after Hari Raya Aidilfitri, and would only apply to mobile soup kitchens.
Those with proper premises and their own kitchen and eating area would be allowed to operate as normal.