The homeless in Penang are facing a hard time.
Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have pointed out that the state still has no government shelter for the homeless and needy, even though Penang has a large number of homeless people.
According to NGO volunteers, there are only two free-of-charge stay-in shelters in the state and these are run by NGOs.
The volunteers claimed that the DAP-led state government had promised to build a shelter when it came to power in 2008, but nothing had materialised so far.
As a result, hundreds of homeless people could be found at public places, such as bus stops, five-foot ways, under bridges and on pedestrian crossings, according to P. Muru¬giah, coordinator of the Temple of Fine Arts' Klinik Derma Sivasanta.
He said that half of the 70 or 80 needy patients treated by the charity clinic twice a week were in fact homeless.
"The Government needs to build a shelter for the homeless and provide medical care for them," he told The Star Online.
Murugiah said his clinic had even collected and cremated 40 unclaimed bodies last year.
He suggested that Penang had a high number of homeless people because the state was densely populated with many senior citizens, and some of these were neglected by their children.
A volunteer at Kawan, a drop-in centre for the homeless and needy, said homeless people were made up of vagrants, the mentally-ill, drug addicts, as well as unemployed youths from other states.
"Half of them are those aged 50 and above and illiterate," said the volunteer, who gave his name as James.
"There is a sizeable number of elderly people and the government needs to set up a shelter quickly."
A doctor in George Town, who declined to be named, told The Star Online that the federal government should step in to solve the problem.
Once again, the disadvantaged sections of society have received no help from Guan Eng's administration, forcing the Barisan Nasional government to step in to help Penangites.
If it was affordable housing earlier, this time it is shelters for the homeless. Either way, the federal government has always carried out its responsibility to the people whereas the DAP-led state government has been found wanting.
Penang homeless need shelter
I STRONGLY support the call by various NGOs for a shelter for the homeless and needy in Penang.
Many of these homeless people sleep on corridors outside shops and temples. Some sleep in sheds and bus stops during the night, and try and get some work during the day.
The elderly and sick end up in hospitals and refuse to leave the wards when they are discharged because they have no home to go back to.
The state Welfare Department’s regular beggar raids cannot ease the situation because only those without serious medical problems and are above 60 years old can enter government-run old folks home.
The rest of the homeless go back to the streets because they cannot afford to rent rooms.
It is high time that the Federal and state governments work with NGOs in Penang to identify a place and start this service. The authorities need to provide support and allocate funds, and not let NGOs run shelter homes in the name of charity.
These shelter homes must also have trained social workers and volunteers.
As Penang strives to retain its modern and heritage status, social service for the needy and disadvantaged groups must always be part of the plan.
LIM B. EAN Penang The Star