KUALA LUMPUR: There has been a spike in the number of homeless people in Kuala Lumpur during the fasting month, clamouring for food and drinks given out by volunteer and welfare groups.
Among those who were waiting for handouts late on Wednesday night (May 22) was a woman who only wanted to be known as Yana.
When interviewed by CNA, Yana, 27, said that she is from the east Malaysian state of Sabah. She has four children and the youngest is only six months old.
“If we are all right, we won’t be here. At least out here, there are volunteers who can help us lessen our burden,” she said.
Her husband is a factory worker who makes about US$400 a month. She said this is not enough to feed her children, let alone put a roof over their heads.
Yana and her children have been sleeping rough for around two years, after the family was kicked out from their flat because they could not pay the rent.
She bathes her children at a nearby mosque and relies on passers-by for food, clothing and other daily essentials.
She blames the rising cost of living as the root cause of her predicament. “Costs have gone up - milk powder, diapers and children expenses ... the salary alone is not enough to cover the costs,” she said.
It seems that Yana is not alone.
A representative from a non-governmental organisation running a food programme for the urban poor said more than 100 women and children have turned up every night in the past month.
“What worries me is I am seeing more women and children now, second, third generation on the streets," said Mr Charles Mohan, CEO of Institute Onn Jaafar.
National Welfare Foundation CEO Che Asmah Ibrahim told CNA that she is aware of the problem. The foundation is under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development.
Ms Che Asmah characterised this as a seasonal phenomenon, with the number of homeless spiking during the fasting month.
“There seems to be more women and children on the streets during Ramadan because people are more kind, they want to do good deeds so this has attracted more to come to the city,” she said.
She cited a joint study by the Kuala Lumpur City Council and the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development, which said there were close to 1,000 homeless people living on the streets of Kuala Lumpur in April, before Ramadan began.
The number has gone up by 20 per cent since then, she noted.
Ms Che Asmah urged the public to donate wisely. “We don’t encourage street feeding ... there is a lot of wastage. One homeless person sometimes gets seven packets of food a day. In the end, the food is wasted."
Meanwhile, the volunteers have their hands full.
Ms Nurfarhana Othman, an undergraduate volunteer for a campaign to feed the urban poor, said she did not expect to see people pushing and shoving for food. “It shows the difficulties they are encountering in their daily routine,” she said.
Another undergraduate volunteer, Ms Khew Chung Yuen, added: “I didn't expect to see so many homeless out here. With more volunteers, we can help to tackle the problem."