Thursday, May 28

Ministry looking to expand homeless shelter concept beyond Kuching, Sibu

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Fatimah checks on a homeless man at Song Kheng Hai Hawker Centre, as Wee (standing, left) and others look on. — Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi

KUCHING: The Ministry of Welfare, Community Well Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development is proposing to expand the homeless shelter concept to other divisions in Sarawak, following success in Kuching and Sibu.

Its minister Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah said this is because the temporary shelter concept is much more acceptable to the homeless, rather than them being placed in institutions.

“They value their freedom more than anything. They would rather be free than being placed in an institution like a prison,” she told reporters during an operation with the Welfare Department and police to round up the city’s homeless yesterday.

The operation was to get the homeless off the streets to be placed in temporary shelters as part of the Movement Control Order (MCO) to curb the spread of Covid-19 in Sarawak.

Fatimah said the homeless here are being sheltered at Anjung Singgah near Jalan Rubber, while those in Sibu at the old government rest house.

The homeless, she pointed out, can go to these shelters to get food, have a shower and also sleep, but cannot stay permanently.

She said since last year, Sibu Resident Charles Siaw had proposed to renovate the Sibu Maksak building to be turned either into a proper homeless shelter or Anjung Singgah, adding she will bring up the proposal to the state government for some funds.

For Miri, Fatimah said her ministry and the Welfare Department are in the midst of discussing with the divisional disaster management committee on a suitable location to set up a temporary homeless shelter centre there.

Meanwhile, statistics released by Fatimah showed that up till March 24 this year, Kuching had the highest number of homeless at 44, followed by Sibu (21) and Miri (17), Bintulu (15), Kapit (7), Sarikei (7) and one each in Samarahan, Serian and Betong.

Of the 114 total, 83 are men. Most of the homeless were found to have mental illness, while others were involved in drugs.

Joining Fatimah during the operation was Kuching South mayor Datuk Wee Hong Seng.