KUALA LUMPUR, July 17 ― Some of the residents at the Sungai Buloh centre for the homeless and destitute are pleading to be released, saying they have done nothing to deserve detention.
At a recent informal visit, supervisors at the Pusat Sehenti Bina Diri Sungai Buloh, which is located deep inside Bandar Sri Damansara told The Malay Mail Online that there are 34 people being held there, pending transfers to welfare homes or centres outside Kuala Lumpur.
“Help me get out of here,” Ong Yok Chu, a resident at the centre, pleaded with The Malay Mail Online.
“Why did they arrest me? I don’t beg. I have a job,” added the 72-year-old.
The elderly woman said she has been held at the Sungai Buloh centre for a month since she was arrested for sleeping rough in a bus station in Kuala Lumpur.
She questioned her arrest and detention, pointing out that she has a job selling bread, water and biscuits that earns her RM600 every month.
“They don’t allow me to make phone calls. They took my handphone away. They tell me I have to stay here for one more month,” said Ong.
At the time of the The Malay Mail Online’s visit, seven people - mostly elderly citizens were gathered at the large canteen in the Sungai Buloh centre, watching TV or walking around listlessly.
A few others were sitting down by themselves on benches outside the canteen, including some in wheelchairs and a man on crutches because he had only one leg.
In a recent interview with The Malay Mail Online, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim said beggars and homeless people would be sent to the Sungai Buloh transit centre, before a court order could be obtained under the Destitute Persons Act 1977 (DPA) to move them to centres outside the capital.
Those aged below 60 years of age would be placed in centres where they would be given shelter, rehabilitation, counselling and vocational training, while the homeless aged above 60 years would be placed at welfare homes.
Both types of facilities are located outside the capital city.
The former are called Desa Bina Diri (DBD) centres that are located in Mersing, Johor; Jerantut, Pahang; and Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. The welfare homes for elderly homeless people aged above 60 are called Rumah Seri Kenangan, which are located in Johor, Negri Sembilan, Perak and Terengganu.
Under the DPA - which critics have said is akin to the abolished Internal Security Act (ISA) that allows for detention without trial - a destitute person can be detained in a welfare home for up to three years and the court order can be extended by another three years.
Erah Osman, 53, said the authorities at the Sungai Buloh centre would not even allow her to visit her hometown in Teluk Intan, Perak, for Hari Raya at the end of the month.
“It’s boring staying here,” Erah told The Malay Mail Online.
“Here, they don’t allow us to go out,” she said, adding that she had been staying at Anjung Singgah, the government shelter for the homeless, for nine days before she was sent here two days ago.
An Indian man called Balu, who is in his 50s, also asked The Malay Mail Online to help get him out of the Sungai Buloh centre.
“I’ve been here for two months. They don’t do any activities here,” he said.
Balu added that he used to do odd jobs in the capital city and slept on the streets before the authorities arrested him at Puduraya.
The government’s Ops Qaseh crackdown on the homeless in the capital city, which was scheduled to start last week, appears to have stalled amid public outrage.
As of 2010, there were 1,646 homeless people in a survey jointly conducted by the Welfare Department and NGOs in four cities in Malaysia, with 1,387 homeless in Kuala Lumpur; 150 in Georgetown, Penang; 99 in Johor Baru, Johor; and 10 in Kuching, Sarawak.