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GEORGE TOWN, July 4 — The homeless cannot be forced into shelters as many among them value the freedom to choose how they live, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said today amid the storm over Kuala Lumpur’s campaign to drive out the homeless from the city’s streets.
Lim cited Penang as an example where, he said, the homeless are allowed to choose between living in shelters and remaining where they are on the streets.
He said the state government has tried many times to take the group off the streets and place them in homes but more often than not, they would flee the shelters.
“We have tried taking them off the streets and putting them in homes, such as old folks’ homes, but they will always escape.
“They want their freedom and don’t want to be confined or locked up so we can’t force them if it’s their choice.
“Here, we value freedom and if they choose hunger and freedom over shelter, we respect that,” he said.
The DAP secretary-general also likened Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor’s orders yesterday that soup kitchens shift out of the capital city to creating a “Potemkin village”.
“Potemkin village” is used to describe a fake village built only to impress.
The term came about when Russian governor Grigory Potemkin erected fake settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to fool Empress Catherine II during her visit to Crimea in 1787.
“Penang also has several soup kitchens to feed the poor and homeless but we are not closing them down,” he said.
The Bagan MP said it is wrong to punish soup kitchens for providing food to the poor for the sake of wanting a “cleaner image” for Kuala Lumpur.
Lim reminded the Federal Territories minister that the issue of homelessness is not only confined to Malaysia but also occurs in other countries.
He pointed out that even Melbourne in Australia has homeless people and beggars on its streets but the government has not shut down the soup kitchens operating there.
“Wanting to clean up the city is one thing but taking out the soup kitchens is not right because it is not only inhumane but also not compassionate,” Lim said.
Lim told Tengku Adnan to be more compassionate and humane by removing the ban on the soup kitchens.
“I admit that the homeless in the streets is a problem but arresting them is not a solution, just like in Penang, we put them in homes and they escape to live in the streets,” he said.
He told Tengku Adnan that it is more of a social issue and though it is a problem, closing down soup kitchens is wrong as it is trying to hide that there are homeless people in the streets.
“We do not want a Potemkin city unless he thinks he’s Potemkin but do we want a Potemkin minister or do we want a minister who tells the truth?” Lim asked.
Yesterday, Tengku Adnan said that soup kitchens are prohibited with a 2km-radius around shopping mall Lot 10 in the Kuala Lumpur’s Golden Triangle business hub.
He warned the soup kitchens that they will be fined if they do not shift out of the capital city by Monday and justified it by saying that it is bad for the city’s image and he had to be harsh by taking action.