Reach Out is a non religious, non political, Community Action Group, which consists of volunteers working with the rural, and the urban poor in Malaysia.Peter Nicoll, Founder of Reach OutTo gain a clearer perspective of what homeless really means, we went to the frontline on the street of KL, alongside with volunteers from Reach Out Malaysia. Each night, Reach Out volunteers will be on the street distributing food to the homeless. Reach Out volunteers called this the Walk of Kindness, they operate every single day, 365. Most runs commence at 11pm in KL, there is a Run Leader in every run, they are tasked to brief before the run and to ensure our compliance to the code of conduct at all time. You may visit Reach Out’s Facebook Group to volunteer yourself.
We picked a Thursday run on Nov 12 and contacted Reach Out to volunteer ourselves in food preparation and the run. Simon, one of the senior members helped us in listing down the things we need to buy. We were being told that we will be feeding approximately 150 pax, therefore we prepared extra, just in case. The list of items goes: 170 packs of biscuits, 170 packets drinks, and 170 pieces of mosquito coils.
We are on the frontline!
Mother nature wasn’t our friend that night as we were greeted with drizzles before the run starts. 7 of us joined the run. After stocking up the items from the market, we drove straight to the meetup point. It’s 11pm by the time we reach our first stop at Masjid Negara, Kuala Lumpur. We met up with Simon and volunteers from Reach Out Malaysia, and few other volunteers. Suresh was our Run Leader for the night. He stressed that the purpose of the run is not to give a charitable donation to the poor or the homeless, but to inspire.
According to Suresh, we are going to make 3 stops, beginning with our gathering point Masjid Negara to Segi College Kuala Lumpur, and finally, Bangkok Bank. Below is the timeline for our activities of the night..
1st Stop: Masjid Negara
We wrapped up at Masjid Negara, served around 40-50 homeless people. We were rather surprised to see most of them were actually very pleasant and polite, in a way that almost everyone thanked us in their native language with a smile. We then hopped onto the next stop, we packed everything back in our vehicles and drove in a convoy towards SEGi College KL.
2nd Stop: SEGi College
We served around 70-80 homeless, which it’s the highest pax of people so far. We spent about an hour here before moving onto the last stop, Bangkok Bank.
3rd Stop: Bangkok Bank
We served about 40-50 homeless here, almost the same number of people as Masjid Negara.
Our run leader, Suresh concluded the run by conducting a last briefing session, we talked & discussed about the causes of homeless and what homeless really is. There’re a number of different personal & social factors that can contribute toward people becoming homeless; individual factors, family background, institutional background etc. Homelessness is a NOT a choice, nobody wants to be homeless.
We spent 30 minutes to finalize the event for the night, everyone eventually head home at around 2AM.
After the voluntary event, we conducted a short interview with a few of our crew members and find out what are their thoughts regarding the event.
Facts & Figures About Homelessness
More than 97% of the homeless are in fact, Malaysians. Foreigners only made up the remaining 2-3%. However, numbers are rising and will probably reach 5% due to the reclining economy. Homeless are NOT beggars, they have jobs during the day with minimal earnings of (approx RM600 or less, it’s even lesser than the standard minimum labor wage) therefore there is no way they can afford a rental. The nearest location is Setia Wangsa and the minimum rent has already costed them nearly half of their earning, RM200-RM250/300 shared room excluding utilities. Their jobs are mainly collecting cardboards, canned recyclable drink, dishwashers etc. With no EPF and essential benefits of an employee, most of the time their earning are not stable and sometimes resulted in them unable to afford a basic 3-meal a day.
According to an interview conducted to Reach Out Malaysia president and founder, Pete Nicholl by Astro, he said that “People are being clouded by the misconception that the people living on the streets are foreigners, drug addicts, and criminals.”
Nicholl also added that the reason why they are homeless is that they couldn’t find high paying jobs due to low education qualification and forced to take up low-income jobs. “Some are also left homeless because of family disputes and errant employers who absconded, closed down their business or did not pay salaries to their employees, leaving them sleeping in the streets with no other option.
In order to provide the much needed help for the homeless, the government stressed that shelters for the homeless are under construction and some were completed late last year. A building in Chow Kit has since been turned into a homeless shelter and a few shelters are currently in construction as well, mainly in Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan Pahang.
The government has also been working together with NGOs and other relevant government agencies in providing for the homeless. In a recent post by the International Union of Architects, the municipal authority in Kuala Lumpur entrusted the Malaysian Institute of Architects with an idea to organize a competition for the design of temporary shelters for the homeless.
At the beginning of this year, the Ministry of Federal Territories’ organized an open house event and invited two thousand unfortunate souls to attend the event. The homeless people who attended the event were given household appliances as gifts rather than giving out cash usually on such occasions.
The government-run event has garnered mixed reviews most notably by the founder of Pertiwi Soup Kitchen, Munirah Abdul Hamid. She said, “It was a nice move by the government and although I think those gifts could be sponsored by other non government agencies and individuals, we must understand these people don’t even have a home, let alone a place to actually use the appliances.”
She also added that some of the homeless actually approached her and asked if she would buy the appliances as money would do them more good than appliances they weren’t sure if they could use it.
Despite that, Tengku Adnan the federal territories minister, concedes that the event was not perfect, portraying it as a “trial-and-error experience”, and has no issue on what the homeless do with the appliances. “It is up to them and they can do as they please. We will improve and make a different approach next time to the homeless”, he added.
While the homeless might be getting help from the government, NGOs and private agencies, we, ourselves should contribute by helping them too. Look for your local neighborhood council or agencies and organize an event to help those in need. God has given us two hands, one to receive with and the other to give with. So, why not try to help them? It would not do any harm.
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