90 per cent of the homeless are Malaysians with jobs

90 per cent of the homeless are Malaysians with jobs
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KUALA LUMPUR: Only 10 percent of homeless persons on the streets of Kuala Lumpur are non-Malaysians.

This means 90 percent of them are in fact locals.

According to Reach Out Malaysia president and founder, Pete Nicholl, the demographics of those sleeping on the streets directly correspond with the demographics of the nation in terms of race, religion and ethnic background.

The local charitable organisation has been operating in Kuala Lumpur and Klang since 2008.

"There is a misconception that the people on the streets are foreigners, drug addicts, criminals and Mat Rempits", he said in an interview with Astro AWANI.

"However, based on our experience, less than one percent of people we serve everyday are in fact non-Malaysians or those with drug or alcohol issues. That means out of the 13,000 people we serve each month, less than one percent are actually foreigners," Nicoll added.

Nicoll also disagreed that food given out free is creating the homeless issue.
He argued that the free food had acted as a tool to find out who the street people are, what skills they have and what is needed for them to be able to reintegrate back into society.

"We need to understand majority of them are actually working. The issue is they do not have enough diposable income to even afford a room. Most do not come from Kuala Lumpur, they are from all over the country such as Perlis, Kedah, Terengganu, Melaka and Johor," he said.

"They come here to find work but do not have enough education qualification to find high paying job so they take up low-income jobs," he added.

He said some are also left homeless because of errant employers who absconded, closed down their factories or have not paid salaries to their employees for up to four months, leaving them with no choice but to sleep in the streets.

He said a comprehensive support system is crucial to eradicate urban poverty and to ensure that lesser people end up homeless.

He said many countries have successful models in dealing with poverty, including proper social welfare as part of the nation policy to help those in distress.

Norway for example, has a social charter with its people that says no one will be poor.

"If someone loses their job, the government will step in and provide financial and other means of support to the person to find employment. That keeps the person going and also ensures that houses are not repossesed," said Nicoll.

He said the United Kingdom has severe poverty problems from austerity cuts made by their government due to deficit.

However, their social welfare system provides financial benefit to those unemployed and seeking for jobs. They also have job centers all over the country for people seeking employment.

"The job seeker is given an allowance for a period of time but you must go to the job centers, register and be  interviewed. After some period of time, if you do not take up the work or go for interview arranged or find employment, then the benefit will stop," he said.

He cited the United States as an example, where as part of the state government's mandate on social welfare, city councillors are directed to provide accommodation purely for the homeless. The rents and utility bills are free, with the housing the local council providing counsellors for the homeless to help reintergrate them back into society.

While some countries are trying help the poor to come off the streets, in Canada, the Vancouver city councillors implemented foldable shelters on benches in the city.

"If it rains or the weather is too hot, they can use the foldable shelther and sit under the shade. That is the humanitarian effort to assist those people," said Nicoll.

Back at home, Reach Out Malaysia hopes to eradicate poverty in Malaysia, state by state, city by city.

Considered to be 'The Frontline in the Fight To Eradicate Poverty’, they hope to bring dignity back to the forgotten who inhabit the streets and doorways of Kuala Lumpur.

In the last two years, they had managed to reintegrate 402 urban poor into employment by working with the corporate sector in Malaysia.

70 were assisted to return to their states of birth.