What Malaysians need right now are leaders who can show some compassion towards the downtrodden and the marginalised, says Syerleena Abdul Rashid.
Society places great importance on all of us to be good citizens, devoting ourselves to the good of the community.
We are also told of how important it is to treat others with respect and compassion but unfortunately, some of those we have elected to serve our nation have failed to abide by these values.
The recent suggestion to systematically remove the homeless is a suggestion that is tasteless and apathetic. The fact that this was propositioned by Women, Family and Community Development Minister Rohani Abdul Karim clearly shows just how disconnected and aloof some leaders of our country have become.
A few weeks ago, Malaysians recoiled in horror when confronted with the news of a decapitated two- year-old. The victim’s mother was reveled to be a homeless woman. That left many wondering why in a country as ‘rich’ as Malaysia, some citizens have been unaided, neglected and forgotten.
It is always easy to blame others for whatever misfortunate that may fall on them. But as logical and rational thinking individuals, we must never jump to simplistic conclusions.
A few of those in the ruling elite seem to find it easy to suggest that people who live on the streets do so because they are lazy and would rather leech off government welfare. But before Malaysians blindly accept such prejudice, we should ask ourselves this: why would anyone choose to live on the streets knowing that they (and their families) would be easily subjected to criminal intentions?
Homelessness is not a choice but it is a result of a monumental failure within the system, be it on a communal level or a government level.
Instead of suggesting that the local authorities simply round up our “invisible Malaysians” and house them in rehabilitation centres, we should try to understand what drives people to completely abandon the comforts of their own homes – if they had one in the first place. Why would they subject themselves to living a life so unfortunate and deprived of the basic amenities that people like us take for granted?
Maybe it is a matter of mental health, and if it is, our elected leaders should look into this matter first before suggesting something irrational such as setting up half-way houses for the homeless without tackling the dire need to provide assistance or proper health care.
We all know that Malaysia isn’t well known for its advocacy in promoting mental wellness and health amongst its citizens. Although we may have a lot of doctors, psychiatry is not exactly a booming field. Mental rehabilitation is often approached by handing down detention sentences. This is not the proper way of dealing with something that could be curable.
Homelessness may also be a result of poor money management skills and drug abuse. Some may even have been driven out from their homes for reasons we will never know.
Malaysians must confront the depressing reality that some of our elected leaders are too unaware, too short sighted and too detached from the hardship average Malaysians have to deal with. The unemployment rate, the high cost of living and the deterioration of our education system are also to be blamed for creating this quandary.
When simple basic needs are not met, people may just snap and completely remove or isolate themselves from society.
What Malaysians need right now are leaders who show some compassion towards the downtrodden and the marginalised. Those in positions of power have the means necessary to reduce the burden of homelessness. Providing low-income housing, creating job opportunities through retraining schemes and ensuring sufficient mental wellness and health care amenities would be a good start.
Homelessness is a complex subject that requires an understanding of human behaviour, psychology, and the sociology of urbanisation.
So, the next time, you come across someone homeless, before you judge them with disgust, understand that they are human beings just like everyone else. They had a family, they were someone’s child. They were someone’s mother, father, brother or sister.
They once had dreams, ambitions and aspirations but somewhere along the line, something happened to them and they were left feeling dejected, dispirited, jaded – and they simply gave up.
As Malaysians, it is not in our best interest to give up on them. We simply can’t.