Helping the homeless can be daunting because many of them don’t want to help themselves.
Apr 08, 2022
Faithfully Speaking Julie Lim Seet Yin
I started serving the homeless during the season of Lent 2020. A soup kitchen had opened in Pudu, Kuala Lumpur, so a friend and I decided to pop over to find out how we could volunteer our time and resources.
Prior to that, I had read in social media the experiences of NGOs and individuals who work with the homeless. Most of their feedback and views have been negative. Intermediate, I still wanted to experience serving this segment of the community.
Many donors prefer to contribute towards the care and education of orphans as children are perceived to be the future of the nation. On the opposite end of the pole are the homeless who are perceived to be scum of the earth, unable to contribute to society. I know of many people who refuse to help the homeless. They ask why they should help useless people. The homeless are the last and the least that society would like to forget.
Reasons for homelessness
There are many reasons why a person is homeless.
Some people leave their hometown or village to look for a job in the city. After securing a job, they send the bulk of their salary back to their family, them with insufficient funds to maintain a basic lifestyle in the city. They are then forced to live on the streets.
I’ve observed that some of the homeless were disowned by family members because of poor anger management. Try advising them and they get angry easily, even to the extent of becoming violent.
Many of them suffer from mental health issues and drug addiction. There have been cases too, of guys being released from prison with nowhere to go, and they end up on the streets.
Some of them choose to be homeless, a reason many of us cannot comprehend. When I asked a homeless person why he chose to be homeless, he said he prefers a care-free life, not having a job or other commitments.
Someone told me of a bizarre case where a lady prefers to rent out her property, whilst she sleeps on the streets. I thought that the rent must have been lucrative for her to choose homelessness.
After serving the homeless for the past two years, I’ve become more aware of their presence around me. There’s this guy who ‘lives’ near the cross junction of Jalan Raja Chulan and Jalan Sultan Ismail in the heart of the city. Each time I pass him while on my morning jog, he never fails to greet me, “Good Morning” with a huge smile.
Sometimes reaching out to the homeless can be amusing too. There’s a semi-transgender who ‘lives’ near my flat. He survives by collecting and selling aluminum cans. Since I had a bag of aluminum cans, I thought might as well give him the whole lot. When I did so, he asked why I was helping him. He thought that I was interested in asking for his hand in marriage!
And then there’s 71-year-old, Mohd Noor, whom I got to know through Archbishop Julian Leow. He is always friendly and chatty. I was told that he speaks French, although I’ve never attempted to speak to him with my extremely limited French. Once, Mohd Noor told me that his mobile phone was stolen by a homeless person. When I related the story to a friend, she got him a used phone from her company. After passing the phone to Mohd Noor, he got himself a SIM card and called my mobile to thank and inform me of his new number. I didn’t expect a homeless person to have such good manners, even better than some people I know.
Long term plans
Many NGOs are helping the homeless get back on their feet and assimilate back into society, ie providing them with shelter, sending them for rehabilitation, and finding jobs for them.
Although the short-term plan is to provide meals and aid for the homeless, the long-term plan is to bring them out from the streets and assimilate them back into society. If these plans are successfully implemented, then all efforts would be worthwhile. However, looking at the situation, and especially the mindset of the homeless, I dare say that this is an implausible goal, almost impossible to achieve. The number of homeless may be reduced, but it is an issue that will not go away, at least not anytime soon.
A success story
In spite of all the negative perceptions of the homeless, there have been success stories, such as the story of Anand who lived on the streets and often got into fights because of his violent temper. He couldn’t keep a job. Soon, volunteers from the soup kitchen offered him shelter, meals and emotional support. In spite of all the help he received, it was not long before Anand went back to his old ways. However, the volunteers never gave up on him. Anand is now working in a church in Petaling Jaya and has asked to be baptised. Anand’s story gives us hope that we too can transform ourselves positively, such as giving up a bad habit or turning away from sin.
Why help the homeless
Helping the homeless can be daunting because many of them don’t want to help themselves. I often ask myself why I sacrifice my Saturday morning sleep to serve at the soup kitchen. A few other volunteers take the trouble to drive from their homes in Shah Alam to the soup kitchen (a distance of approximately 30km) to serve. It is always easy to throw in the towel, especially in challenging cases where the person is violent. So why do we continue helping the homeless? The answer lies in the parable of the lost sheep (Mt 18:12-14) where the shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep in search of the one lost sheep. He never stops and never gives up till he finds it. The parable inspires us to continue helping the homeless, even if it is a single person that we help. We don’t give up on the last and the least because they are perceived to be useless, because God never gives up on us.
l Julie Lim Seet Yin believes that a satisfied life measured by one’s heart, mind and soul is better than a successful life measured by worldly yardsticks. She works for a Japanese bank and is responsible for its Public Relations and Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives. She serves in various church ministries and charities and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org