It’s not just because of unaffordable housing that causes people to be homeless or abandoned. We are not oblivious to what famine and war does to a community through decade-worth of displacement. The ostracized walk away from their ravaged homes - violently pressured and herded to refugee camps that are surrounded by guards heavily armed with Kalashnikovs, repulsive machetes and rusted barb wires. Yet in many parts of South East Asia, similar to Malaysia, homelessness affects the urban poor. A widely-ignored human rights violation within plain view of society and the Institutions.
Homelessness starts with the pressures of the rise and fall of a country’s economy. We say that such eye-sore should not be categorized with displacement of those affecting Africa in the early ’90, but why not? Is it because poor mental health, unemployment, and the inability to catch up with the wildly-swinging high and expensive standards of living are not trendy? Or because it affects our backyard and we are too embarrassed to admit that society has failed to take swift action to help?
In 1996, I met a young woman in the twisted streets of Chow Kit. Aisha Abdullah was 26 years old, whose angry light brown eyes rarely blinked. She has three siblings, hailed from Pahang and loved to cook. She left her parents and hometown in search of work, times were tough especially for a traditional rural woman, not to mentioned being raised and had lived in the middle of nowhere amidst the rubber-tapping community for more than two decades. Aisha decided to try her luck in the big city, to work at any available job, as long as she could save money. Tiring as it was, she held a part time night job in a restaurant, which didn't really solve her dwindling finances and demanding monthly rental.
After four months, she was out on the streets; homeless, disillusioned and barely holding a near-redundant job of washing dirty dishes and stained pots. Her troubles were just increasing, as she did not have money to send back to her folks, nor was she willing to accept any help from concerned relatives. She was embarrassed; her last relationship with a man who outrageously flirted, and manipulated her out of her little savings, and then left her traumatized and alone in the city. Life was going downhill at this point.
To be continued...