KUALA LUMPUR, December 15, 2018 – Last week we were given a priceless opportunity to get to know the homeless community in Jalan Hang Lekiu, Kuala Lumpur. It was a great experience for first timer like us as all this while, we knew their existence, but exactly what they faced in life, was pretty much subjected to assumptions and to a certain extent: prejudice. This trip was organized under i-Qalbu by QAPEX, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia.
Anjung Singgah Yayasan Kebajikan Negara (YKN) is implemented in an effort to help the homeless by providing them with lodging spaces yet still be quite independent. Anjung Singgah provides temporary accommodation facilities, food and as an intervention center to prepare the homeless people in facing the future so as not to become isolated from the mainstream of the national development.
During our visit there, we were exposed to women of all ages; single, married, divorcees, elderly people and even children. The eldest woman there was a 65-year-old awaited to be transferred to “Old Folks Home”, while the youngest was 2 years 7 months old living there with her parents. This little jewel would definitely steal away your heart with her cheekiness.
When we reached there, we mingled around with the homeless women and children, trying our best to “blend-in”. The purpose of our visit was to uncover the factors that rendered them homeless and identified challenges that they face as homeless community members. This was done with an aim that we could offer short term and long-term solutions to help them if any of their needs were unmet. I once heard from a pioneer that, to help someone, we need to help them in such a way that they want to be helped, not based on how we plan to help them. So how did these people want us to help them? Did they want to be helped? Or were they running away from the stereotype and labels that a society likes to put on people like them?
We started by opening up conversations, sharing their stories with ours and trying to connect with them. As their stories revealed, we identified a couple of problems that these women and children faced in their daily life. It turned out that there were many underlying factors that caused a woman with children to turn and seek help from these homeless shelters. One of the biggest factors was due to lack of family support. Some of these women argued with their family members and were forced out from their home, causing them to seek for an alternative shelter. Some of them were also dealing with financial difficulties due to job termination. Being unable to pay rent forced them to move out of their comfort zone seeking for alternative shelter. Apart from that, trust deficiency with others around them played an important role. This had caused them to turn around and seek help from the same circle of influence. These homeless women also were found to draw upon similar relationships to fulfill multiple needs including love, attention and companionship. The very sad reality about these homeless women was that a vast majority of them were also victims of physical violence or sexual abuse. This was in alignment with some studies which found that up to 70% of homeless women are victims of domestic violence while 41% are sexual assault victims.
Being a child of a homeless mother actually left them with not much choice. These children either faced the condition of being left with other family members or tagged along with their parents. These children are at high risk of drugs and alcohol misuse. In fact, a research by Chen et. al. (2006) and Martin & Sharpe (2006) reported that 39% to 70% of homeless youth abuse drugs and alcohol were two to three times higher than that found among non-homeless youths. The big question here was that, how do we save these homeless children from further adding up to the staggering percentages? That’s not all. These children also faced dysfunctional development cognitively and socially. Due to the hardship that they faced in their daily life, it caused them to reach the maturity level way before their biological age. Being street smart let them survived the challenges, but it also means that they are taking more risk at a younger age. Some of these children still attended school as usual but some did not. It’s a shame as every child deserve to access to learning spaces and gain knowledge. Who knows that the cure of cancer could be behind the works in any of these neglected brains.
Based on the factors outlined, we have identified of long run and short run solutions that could be implemented to help these homeless women and children. One of the effort was to provide them with a safer environment such as “Sekolah Perlindungan”. Also, we could set these homeless shelter into a one stop center that provides counseling and spiritual needs. Apart from that, one of the crucial solution that we would like to propose here is the construction of “IC – I SUPPORT: 14 DAYS MODULE” for them once they entered the shelter. This module, as a whole, could help transition the homeless women and children to a brand-new person spiritually, mentally, physically and emotionally. It could be seen as a second home-coming where current problems would be looked using fresh perspectives, arming them with better options of problem-solving and most importantly a space where new leaves are turned.
Like the unfolding of a new year; the experience at Anjung Kasih for these homeless people could be a pivot for a new life ahead of them, and each of us has a role to play to make the transition to a new beginning, easier and better.
Dr. Shahrina Ismail
Faculty of Science and Technology
Dr. Nur Faraheen Abdul Rahman
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences