Monday, February 22, 2021

Stay-home call a challenge for the homeless

For many on the streets, there is no such thing as 'stay home, stay safe'.

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For one group of people, heeding the now-familiar call to “stay home and stay safe” is a challenge on many fronts as the country continues the fight to keep Covid-19 infections at bay.

In the capital city of Kuala Lumpur alone, hundreds of men and women live on the streets with no place to call home, much less in which to wait out the pandemic which claimed over 1,000 lives so far.

They are a familiar sight downtown, sleeping on pieces of cardboard on sidewalks and in alleys, or begging for alms on the curb with their belongings in a bundle beside them.

A street food stall owner told MalaysiaNow that the Jalan Tun Perak area used to be a popular gathering spot for homeless people.

“Usually they are there, but since the Covid-19 pandemic and the MCO was put in place, a lot of them started moving to other places around the city,” she said.

The MCO or movement control order was imposed on Jan 13 in a bid to cut the number of infections which had hovered in the four-digit range since late last year. It was recently extended to March 4 in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Johor and Penang although the majority of other states progressed to the conditional phase of restrictions known as CMCO.

The stall owner said homeless people in Kuala Lumpur now “pretty much settle down in any spot where they feel comfortable and safe”.

“Most of them are scared of the virus too, and have started doing their own version of social distancing.”

“Some of them have also settled at the Masjid Jamek sitting area which overlooks a river,” she added.

A deliveryman who frequents the Masjid Jamek area agreed that many homeless people had moved there, adding that they venture out more often when the weather is less humid, such as in the morning and close to sunset.

“I used to see a lot of them at Jalan Tun Perak, but they’ve started moving here now since it’s MCO and fewer people are coming out to this part of the city,” he said.

“Most of them are scared of the virus too, and have started doing their own version of social distancing.”

For the homeless, though, there is only so much they can do to avoid infection.

“Some of them have face masks, some don’t,” the deliveryman said.

“I’ve seen people pass out masks and sanitiser to them. They are usually apart and spend most of their time sitting here or just trying to catch up on sleep.”

It’s a hard life, made even harder by the pandemic which has wreaked havoc on the economy and seen tight restrictions imposed on most aspects of social life.

“Some of them have face masks, some don’t.”

A homeless man told MalaysiaNow that they used to get hot food from a soup kitchen several times a week. But since the MCO was put in place, things have been different.

“They used to come every Tuesday and Thursday, but now they only come on Thursdays,” he said.

The matter of temporary housing has also been complicated by the Covid-19 situation.

“We were all gathered and put into temporary homes at one point but these homes were shut down during the MCO and we were forced to come back out here again after that.”

NGOs, organisations and government agencies are doing their best to help the homeless as the pandemic continues in the country.

In April last year, over 800 in Kuala Lumpur were taken in and offered temporary housing by the welfare department and the Kuala Lumpur City Hall.

But even with such initiatives in place, there is only so much that can be done. Some organisations like Need to Feed the Need say their funds might not last through this second round of MCO.

For now, the homeless may have to continue fending for themselves on the streets.

“I’ve received RM800 from the government since last year,” the homeless man told MalaysiaNow. “But the money is not enough to survive for the long term.”

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