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AS someone who has taught and carried out research in social studies at tertiary level, and been involved in social work for more than 30 years, I would like to bring to the attention of the minister and deputy minister of women, family and community development the difficulties encountered by the homeless in accessing the facilities and assistance made available by the government supposedly to help them.
Homeless people are victims of circumstance and do not wish to be in the state they are now. They are likely to be alone, with no family connections, with little education or even illiterate.
Some are physically challenged due to injury or sickness which makes it difficult for them to live normal lives, let alone get back into the mainstream society.
Fortunately, for the existence of soup kitchens, which were almost closed down by one irresponsible minister in 2014, homeless and destitute people are able to have a decent meal every day. Incidentally these soup kitchens are run by civil society groups.
homeless people should be given access to the welfare benefits provided by the Social Welfare Department, which is under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.
Currently, the sum is RM500, which is certainly insufficient but helpful enough to tide them over, especially those who are old and those cannot work because of health or other physical reasons.
However, to obtain this financial assistance has proven to be difficult. When they tried to register for the benefits, they were told that they must provide an address in their application forms.
If they have an address, they would not be homeless.
Civil society groups have brought this issue up a few times with the different ministers and deputy ministers in office at different periods of time.
In 2018, the then deputy minister agreed that homeless people could use the addresses of the groups representing them, so some groups did that.
Unfortunately, the welfare officers rejected the applications. One of the reasons given was that the groups did not provide accommodation for the claimants and so the address could not be used.
Consequently, we are in this Catch-22 deadlock.
In this letter I would like to appeal to the minister and deputy minister of women, family and community development to look into this issue.
If a policy has indeed been previously decided at cabinet level that homeless people can use the addresses of groups to register for the welfare assistance, this directive must be passed down to the lowest level.
If this has not been done, it is high time for the ministry to take the initiative to do so.
Malaysia has to meet the first and very important target of the United Nations sustainable development goals on zero poverty and there is even an all-party parliamentary group on this subject.
If we want to achieve the objective of the goals – leaving no one behind – surely homeless people are a priority.