A heart for the homeless

Godsent ‘godson’: Tan assisting a resident walk with a walking stick at Persatuan Syukur Penyayang Pulau PInang in Ayer Itam, George Town. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: The sight of many elderly folk sleeping at bus stops in the early 1990s led Peter Tan down an eventful road to help those in need.

Having run Persatuan Syukur Penyayang Pulau Pinang for 18 years now, Tan has taken in almost 100 people over the years, many of whom have regarded him as their godson.

“It has been a long journey and it began with a voice in my head getting louder every time I came across someone homeless, especially an elderly person.

Star Golden Hearts Award nominations are open now until July 31, 2023.Star Golden Hearts Award nominations are open now until July 31, 2023.“We make sure to help those in need. But our main criteria is they must be single or without immediate family members.

“Usually, our residents are referred to us by the hospitals, Social Welfare Department or people who come across cases in need,” he said.

Tan said the only exception was one case involving a mother and her daughter.

The daughter is mentally-challenged while her elderly mother has physical disabilities.

“They do not have anyone else and cannot take care of themselves,” he said.

Tan, 55, said currently, they were looking after 40 residents including a 72-year-old, who has been staying in the home since it opened in 2006.

“He was living in a hut without proper walls but I managed to convince him to follow me and stay here all these years.

“I started the home with three residents I found living by the roadside. It has now grown to 40 with 13 staff members.

“Over the years, we lost 57 residents to old age and diseases,” he said.

Tan said they also took in those with health issues including cancer, visual impairment, the disabled, accident victims and even those with Alzheimer’s.

“We not only look into their physical well-being and health but make sure they are happy, feel at home and valued,” he said.

Tan said the residents range from those in their 50s to those in their 90s.

“We also provide nursing aid. Although most of them are mobile, they need help such as taking a shower and medication on time.

“We have night shift staff to ensure there is constant care round the clock.

“For me, this is just a small contribution to society. We will continue to do our best to assist the less fortunate for as long as we can,” he said.

Prior to this journey, Tan said he worked for his brother in Sabah in 1997.

Back then, he witnessed many homeless people loitering and scavenging for things, and such vivid memories kept playing on his mind.

“Whenever I see someone homeless, it breaks my heart.

“Not long after, I quit my job and joined a monastery in Taiwan for a few years before returning to Malaysia in 2001.

“It was then that I had a vision to start a home to look after the needy and elderly,” said Tan, who hails from Melaka.

He said he narrowed down the location to three cities – Johor, Kuala Lumpur and Penang – before choosing the latter.

“Here, I started by working part-time as a driver, delivering flowers.

“This helped me to familiarise with the roads before I became a social worker,” he said.

Tan said at the end of 2004, he registered the association before putting his plan into action.

“There were a few obstacles along the way.

“I only managed to start the home on Jan 1, 2006, and have never looked back since.

“We have our regular donors and good Samaritans who come to the office to donate.

“Their contributions help us to sustain our upkeep year in, year out,” he said.

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