KUALA LUMPUR, July 8 ― Do you think the homeless are lazy?
Some might be. The Malay Mail Online took to the city centre near the Kotaraya shopping complex and Segi College and spoke to several who have been making their beds on the five-foot-way and learnt that some have jobs, are articulate even, but are living on the streets for various reasons.
They came from all over the country hoping for a better life in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s glittering capital city.
Some ended up being taken advantage of by unscrupulous employers, or find it hard to work a typical nine-to-five job because of mental illness or physical ailments.
Others struggle with HIV, and a few say they prefer sleeping exposed to the elements in the companionship of friends as opposed to caged within four walls or alone in Australia.
One talks about feeding stray cats every day. A common thread of estranged family ties runs through their stories.
These are the tales of the homeless in Kuala Lumpur.
Roslan’s seven siblings kicked him out of the house in Malacca three years ago because he is HIV positive. He has been sleeping on the streets in Kuala Lumpur since and now makes his bed under a large tree near Kotaraya.
Though his mother said he could stay in their house, just seven days after she died, his youngest sister told the 52-year-old Malay man to leave.
“You sort yourself out,” Roslan remembers his sister telling him.
Roslan had moved back in with his mother when he got separated from his wife in 2005 after a 16-year marriage. Despite his HIV status, his wife had accepted him. Thankfully, neither his wife nor his two children have the virus.
But his wife could not take it when Roslan, who started injecting heroin at the age of 15, went back to drugs after being clean for six years during their marriage.
“I made a lot of mistakes. I don’t blame my ex-wife,” Roslan says, ruefully.
He gets angry, however, when he talks about his siblings.
“I have cut off ties with them. My siblings don’t want to accept me because I’m a drug addict,” he says.
But Roslan has been clean for four years since going on a methadone programme.
“I don’t even want to touch it anymore,” he says.
Sia Chin Siew
For Sia Chin Siew, home is now a pile of flattened cardboard boxes outside Bangkok Bank. For a pillow, she uses a bag. A white blanket completes her bed. She burns a mosquito coil at her feet to keep away the bugs.
The 58-year-old woman ran away from home two to three years ago after her husband refused to let their son marry the girl of his choice.
That wasn’t the first time Sia ran away.
It started when she was 18. Her father barred her from dating the man who eventually became her husband.
Sia returned home five years later, after which her father said she could marry whoever she wanted.
“I like freedom,” Sia says.
“I don’t want to rent a room. I can’t live within four walls because it’s very boring. It’s like being in a jail,” she adds.
She says she will consider returning home if her son gets married.
Yu Ching Hua
Yu Ching Hua, a 67-year-old man with a hoary beard, used to be a chef for 32 years and earned RM8,000 a month.
With his income, he managed to send his children overseas. His two daughters are now living in Switzerland, while his son resides in Australia.
In the 1990s, he stayed for six months in Australia. But he didn’t like it because he had no friends there.
“I felt like an idiot every day,” Yu says.
So he came back to Malaysia and now sleeps on the streets in Kuala Lumpur where he has “many friends”. His wife sleeps at her workplace, a childcare centre located in Petaling Jaya.
“I’m used to the outside,” Yu says.
Arinburagan sleeps in a field in Dataran Merdeka in the morning because he works as a car park attendant at night, and it’s too expensive to travel back to the shelter at a Hindu temple in Puchong.
The 61-year-old Indian man has a wife and two children in Ipoh, but declines to elaborate on whether his relationship with them is strained.
“I’ve been sleeping on the streets for three months,” says Arinburagan.
As we talk, a Sikh man passes by and gives Arinburagan a handful of coins. Arinburagan grins and thanks him.
Simon is from Sabah and sells recyclable cans for a living. He sleeps on the streets near the Maybank headquarters in the city centre. He says it is difficult to find work.
Then the 48-year-old man says he hears voices in his head. The voices have been around since he was 14.
“The voices are flying around. They say they don’t like me,” he says.
Simon’s stories are a jumble. He says he once won a Perodua car. And then he relates how his family was kidnapped. He remembers his mother used to collect gold.
Before Ah Fatt talks to me and my colleague Choo Choy May, he feeds an orange tabby leftovers from his Nando’s chicken meal.
A group of people wearing Nando’s T-shirts had passed by the noisy construction area near Bangkok Bank in the city centre, where he sleeps, and had given him chicken, rice and mineral water.
“Every day, I go to KFC and get bones for the six stray cats here,” Ah Fatt says, as he calls out “miaow, miaow” to the orange tabby.
The Chinese bachelor in his 60s has six siblings. He says he doesn’t want to live with them because he feels he would be imposing on them since he’s jobless.
“I don’t want many things; I’m happy with even just one drumstick. So I don’t need to work,” he says.
“There’s so much food here. Six packets of food will arrive at my doorstep every Saturday,” Ah Fatt adds
Nasar stopped working as a security guard 10 years ago because his employer didn’t pay him for three months.
Since then, the 33-year-old Malay man has resorted to begging at the Mydin hypermarket in the city centre, which earns him a tidy amount of RM50 a day. He does it by putting a plastic cup on the floor and holds out his hands.
“I’m forced to beg. Of course I don’t like living like this,” he says, lighting up a cigarette.
Nasar has been sleeping in the same spot under a large tree near Kotaraya for a decade.
S. Sathiumnarainah does odd jobs like fixing cables, but his employer recently stopped paying him.
The 44-year-old man says he prefers to sleep on the streets near Maybank in the city centre rather than stay in his sister’s house because he has friends here. If his friend Mani is not here, then he will go to his sister’s.
Sathiumnarainah talks a lot about his friend Mani.
“Mani likes to drink toddy. He got into a fight. But I don’t drink,” he says.
Beroner Bill works as a security guard and has hostel accommodation, but the 27-year-old Sarawakian prefers to sleep on the streets near Kotaraya because he has many friends here.
The young man, who earns between RM1,000 and RM1,400 monthly, speaks very softly. I have to lean in to hear him.
“I like staying in KL. I like watching people around me,” he says, with a pensive look on his face.
In the area under a large tree where he sleeps, several other people are lying on benches. A baby drinks from a milk bottle as it lies on a rug on the floor.
A shirtless white man works on a crossword puzzle in the dark, his head bent over in concentration. The street lamps are out.