The homeless and Chinese New Year
BY WONG YU HAN AND LOW HAN SHAUN
Qiu Jin Loong, 64, receiving ang pow from Kechara Soup Kitchen volunteers for the upcoming Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. The retired miner says the Lunar New Year won’t be anything special for him. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Mukhriz Hazim, February 18, 2015.
Tonight, as Chinese Malaysian families gather for the traditional reunion dinner on the eve of the Lunar New Year, there are those who remain estranged from their families, spending the evening alone and, in some cases, on the streets.
The Malaysian Insider joined the homeless last Saturday in the capital, Kuala Lumpur, as a soup kitchen treated them to a lion dance performance, a meal and ang pow, the traditional red packets with some money inside to symbolise blessings and luck.
Justin Cheah, project director of the Kechara Soup Kitchen (KSK) Society, said this was the first time a non-governmental organisation had arranged a lion dance for the homeless to celebrate the festive season with them.
“Chinese New Year is about reunion, some of these people may face their own problems and not have any family members, how would you feel if you had nowhere to go to during the celebration?
“So we thought we could do a little something to cheer these folks up,” he said.
KSK covered 3 main areas that night, starting off at its operations centre in Jalan Imbi, and on to Jalan Chow Kit and Cahaya Suria in Kota Raya.
About 80 volunteers helped coordinate the crowd and distribute food. Ambulances were also present to treat any immediate patients.
That night, KSK gave away ang pow worth RM5,000 to the homeless, and more than 1,000 packets of food.
Treats like ang pow and the lion dance were part of a bigger objective to give the homeless hope, build their trust and ultimately to get them off the streets, said Cheah.
“It’s not just about giving away food,” he said, citing a recent example where KSK surprised a homeless uncle with a cake on his birthday. They knew his date of birth as he had registered with the organisation.
“The problem we’ve faced in the past is unwillingness of these individuals to open up, but the birthday cake, for example, was a simple gesture and as such, managed to open up his heart,” he added.
“It just goes to show how little things like these go a long way to touch people’s lives.”
There are around 1,900 homeless individuals throughout the Klang Valley, according to KSK treasurer Felicia Yeoh.
The number was tabulated based on a combination of surveys conducted by various soup kitchens and other NGOs.
Cheah said urban poverty was difficult to eradicate and, in fact, there were more “homeless people in the making”.
This is the result of a combination of factors, including inadequate education and domestic problems in families pushing some people out to the streets.
“What we’re seeing now is the end product of these problems and our job here is to identify the cause and solve the root of the problem.
“Some of these individuals may have been ill-treated while growing up and are now dealing with the negative effects.”
Cheah disagrees with the idea that homelessness is caused by economic downturns, adding that jobs are still available in Kuala Lumpur.
But the difficulty for some homeless to secure a job and stay in it is the result of many factors.
“Some may not have access to the right channel to get jobs, qualifications may also be a reason they can’t afford to change jobs,” Cheah added.
The Malaysian Insider spoke to a few homeless on the Chinese New Year and the challenges they faced in trying to turn their lives around.
Qiu Jin Loong, 64, retired miner, born in the Year of the Tiger
Qiu worked in various odd-jobs in the past, including as a kitchen boy washing dishes at the back of restaurants and moving stock.
A leg injury has made it difficult for him to continue with these jobs.
“I don’t work any more, my leg was injured over the years, and I’m already at a retirement age.
“I’ve tried to consult the government doctors quite a few times but they don’t seem to know what the problem is,” he said when met near Jalan Imbi from where KSK was operating.
Qiu has been relying on soup kitchens or feeding programmes around Kuala Lumpur for the past year, saying he takes life one day at a time.
“I don’t know where my kids are at, I’m already divorced. They don’t know where I am and I don’t know where they are either.”
The Chinese New Year will be “nothing special” for him, he said.
“I’ll spend the day just like every other normal day.”
He has some friends among other homeless, but has no plans to spend it with them, as a few still have homes to return to.
Despite his situation, Qiu said he was contented with life. His Chinese New Year wish is that this year would be a healthy one for him.
“I just hope to live as long as I may. The only heath problem I face now is this limb.”
Hoo Wen Cai, 53, has no children and will be celebrating the Lunar New Year on the streets. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Mukhriz Hazim, February 18, 2015.
Hoo Wen Cai, 53, aluminium can recycler, born in the Year of the Pig
Hoo was waiting near Kota Raya while KSK distributed its donations that night.
He described himself as poor and said he sold empty cans and glass bottles for a living.
“I don’t even have any kids, so what reunion dinner are you talking about?
“I don’t have a fixed place, sometimes I may linger around Pudu, sometimes I stray around Chow Kit, sometimes here… I’ve got no money, how do I get married anyway?”
Hoo is negative about the year ahead, saying he had no plans or hopes for anything.
“What hope do you think I possibly have? I’ve got no plans ahead for the new year,” said Hoo, aregular at soup kitchens.
“Who would want to hire me? You think it’s easy to find a job in this place? I don’t feel like getting a job anyway. Life still goes on for me as the days and occasions pass by.”
Zhang Ah, 60, born in the Year of the Goat
Zhang said he was once a chef in one of the hotels in Kuala Lumpur but said at his age, he did not want to work any more.
He said he was contented with life, even though he lived on the streets and depended on the kindness of strangers.
“I’m 60 already, I’m tired of working all my life. It’s time for me to rest,” he said.
“This new year? I don’t expect anything special, I’m happy with where I am currently, living on benches, sometimes if I’m lucky during the new year, kind people would also give me ang pow.”
He said he wanted to this opportunity to thank the “good people” who have helped him, but had never been able to.
But Zhang clammed up with asked about his family and if he had anyone to spend Chinese New Year with. He insisted that he was all right where he was, and hoped the Year of the Goat – his zodiac year – would bring him luck.
“Yes, this Year of the Goat, I hope, will bring me many blessings and help me pull through this year.”
William Lee, 31, restaurant worker, born in the Year of the Rat
William Lee has 4 children but he is unable to return home for the Lunar New Year. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Mukhriz Hazim, February 18, 2015.
The youngest homeless person met that night, Lee has a job at a restaurant, is married and has four children. But he does not live when them and instead prefers to send the money home, as well as to support his mother, rather than rent a place to stay.
He regretted not being able to join his family for their reunion dinner.
“The economy is so bad now, I regret that I’m unable to go back to my family, what to do?”
He has no fixed place to stay or sleep, but he does have a favourite spot.
“People like us don’t have a fixed place to live, I usually prefer the front of Segi College,” he said.
Lee divides his income between his family and his elderly mother.
“The money is allocated for my family, and not forgetting my mother as well, I barely get to spend any on myself.”
Lee has witnessed the Welfare Department’s rounding up of the homeless, saying those who were older would normally be taken away.
“I see it happening often, what they do to you varies according to your past records and age. So if you’re one of the elderly, they’ll probably take you under their care and see what they can do to help.”
He said it was probably easier now to survive as a homeless person in Kuala Lumpur than in the past.
“Ten years ago, it was worse. You won’t be able to survive in KL without a job as a homeless person.
“Today, with all these NGOs being around, some people don’t see the need to find a job.”
But he did not deny that NGOs were important in helping the homeless change their views and get motivated to look for work.
“Certain NGOs have done a great job to help us to reignite our motivation and desire to be normal again, to look for new jobs and sources of income to lead a better life.
“But sometimes I can see people fall back into the homeless state. Some just give up after two years of working.” – February 18, 2015.
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