JOHOR BAHRU, January 24th –– The NGO Alliance for Homeless Feeding – a loose coalition of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and non-governmental individuals (NGIs) involved in feeding the homeless in Johor Bahru – strongly refute recent claims in the media of a surge in the number of homeless people around Johor Bahru city centre. The group further denies that there is a shortage of cooked meals for homeless individuals in the heart of the city.
The Alliance acknowledges that while the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the local economy, recent media reports of homeless figures in the city centre being anywhere from 500 to 800, is rooted in exaggerated speculation rather than evidence-based as the actual number is around 250 to 290.
This is because every member of the NGO Alliance works with a database of chronic homeless individuals they serve regularly. These ‘clients’ can be categorised as those who have been homeless for a long period of time, and transit homeless individuals who are there as a ripple effect of the Covid-19 pandemic which has resulted in unemployment for many.
The latest media reports about high numbers of homeless individuals floating around Johor Bahru has made the issue something of a cause celebre.
“From our observation, there is currently an over-distribution of food, caused by kind individuals who mean well but have unknowingly caused disruption,” said Merlin Hoo, Head Coordinator for Kechara Soup Kitchen Johor.
Kechara Soup Kitchen has a long track record of serving the homeless in Johor Bahru since 2011, first at KTMB, and now at Sri Lanang in collaboration with the MRC.
“MRC has been actively distributing food to the homeless on a daily basis at Sri Lanang and there is no shortage of food. The contradicting media coverage is causing more generous donors to provide food handouts which end up going to waste and creates an unhygienic and unsafe environment,” said Velasamy S. Pillai from the Malaysian Red Crescent (MRC) National Committee for Community Services and Health.
The NGO Alliance is made up of past winners of the Iskandar Malaysia Social Hero Awards (IMSHA), as well as other local players, many of whom have been regularly and systematically involved in the feeding of the homeless in the Johor Bahru city centre for the past ten years or so. They are:
- Kechara Soup Kitchen
- Malaysian Red Crescent (MRC) Community Services
- National Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SSVP)
- Freemarket Johor
- Friends & Strangers
- Pertubuhan Penganut Dewa Natuk Kong
- Shechinah Association Johor Bahru
- Several NGIs who are regular meal providers for homeless individuals and underprivileged families over many years.
The surplus of food by donors which has increased after the latest media reports is cause for concern as homeless individuals who keep the food for a prolonged time might end up consuming spoilt food and become unwell. The surplus of food has also jeopardised cleanliness of the surrounding area, as discarded food fill up bins and drainage in the area which clog up the flow of drain waters, therefore, becoming a breeding ground for mosquitos and other pests.
The NGO Alliance has a street feeding schedule in place and the NGOs work well at coordinating efforts among each other to reduce wastage and to share resources. NGOs and NGIs in the alliance have also taken a pledge to be committed to cleanliness. Cleanliness; from the preparation of meals as well as pre and post cleanliness at service areas.
“Civil society needs to work together for the good of all, not least the homeless. This is an example of the synergy that can be achieved towards building Johor Prihatin,” said Hugh B. Dason, National Vice President of SSVP.
Besides cooked meals, the NGOs in the alliance also provide Non-Food Items (NFIs) such as hygiene kits, sanitizers, face masks and mosquito repellents among other things. Some of them also provide biscuits and emergency ration food items which have a longer lifespan compared to ready-to-eat meals.
“Apart from providing food and drinks for the needy, our “Halfway House” project provides shelter to the homeless, counselling to those who need, and we strive to seek job opportunities to those who are willing and able to work. We believe that everyone deserves a chance. With hope and given the right opportunity, everyone has a chance to improve their lives,” said James Issachar, Chairman of Shechinah Association Johor Bahru.
The NGO Alliance is working tirelessly to ensure there is no one left behind, and no one is deprived of a decent meal. Aid is provided not only for the homeless but for urban poor as well as vulnerable communities. In making Johor a caring and sustainable community, the NGOs implement the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agenda of Goal 2 (Zero Hunger), Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production).
“Although we welcome all contributions towards the homeless community, regular feeders know the scenario can be fluid. Whenever there is a shift in trends, we discuss it with our contributors to share out the benefits to other affected communities like the urban poor, families of Covid-19 patients and many other deserving causes. This is part of our effort to minimise the excessive food wastage in town,” said Zaharah Raishan Mohd Yassin, Coordinator of Freemarket Johor.
Besides providing food for the homeless, the NGOs also provide basic medical attention, job placements, counselling, emotional support, upskilling and shelters for the homeless.
“We call on everyone who wants to donate food to work together with all of us in the NGO Alliance to ensure that the donated goods don’t go to waste and any surplus can be diverted to other areas and families in need of aid, said Ng Francis, Chairman of Pertubuhan Penganut Dewa Natuk Kong.
Donors who wish to work with the NGO Alliance for Homeless Feeding are welcome to do so by connecting directly with them:
Kechara Soup Kitchen
Malaysian Red Crescent Community Services
Rosley bin Abd Wahab
National Society of Saint Vincent de Paul (SSVP)
Hugh B. Dason
Pertubuhan Penganut Dewa Natuk Kong
Shechinah Association Johor Bahru:
Iskandar Malaysia Social Hero Awards (IMSHA) Secretariat