KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — Foo spends the night salvaging recyclable waste from piles of rubbish discarded by shop owners along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman in the city.
When he grows tired of walking the 2km stretch, he often lays down for a nap on the cool wooden benches held up by three-foot long concrete legs along major one-way road.
But Foo told The Malay Mail Online today that he had to sleep on the floor of the sidewalk last night because the Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) has installed steel bench dividers painted in luminescent green, which restricts him from stretching out his legs.
He walks away looking exasperated, muttering under his breath, “Mahu tidur kejap pun, dia tak suka (Even to rest for a bit, they don’t like it).”
Foo is among thousands of homeless, who have made the city’s streets and back alleys their home for years.
It is unclear when the dividers were fitted, but Dapur Jalanan, a soup kitchen that hands out meals on wheels, spotted the steel bars yesterday night.
In the photo tweeted by the soup kitchen, the non-profit organisation remarked, “Mungkin ini hadiah hari raya dari PBT kepada warga miskin kota (maybe this is a Hari Raya gift from the local council to city’s poor folks).”
Dapur Jalanan could not be reached for comment.
“DBKL said they would meet the soup kitchens operating in the city in town hall meeting, but this just shows that the crackdown is very real… this is a trial exercise by DBKL,” said Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower) president Janarthani Arumugam, when contacted today.
The latest measure appears to be stem from Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor remarks on July 3 that soup kitchens would be barred from operating within a 2km zone in the city centre as their operations are encouraging homelessness and reflected poorly on the image of the nation’s capital.
Tengku Adnan had complained the areas where soup kitchens operate were dirty, attracted vermin that spread diseases like Leptospirosis, and dengue.
After coming under fire for the remarks, the ministry sought to contain the negative publicity by saying it is merely setting up a “one-stop centre” to combat vagrancy in Kuala Lumpur, which was followed by a visit from Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to the homeless on July 10.
Tengku Adnan then announced that the ban will be postponed until after Hari Raya, which is next Monday.
A DBKL media officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, confirmed that City Hall installed the dividers to deter the homeless from “turning the benches to beds”.
“You think people will sit on the benches after they (the homeless) have slept on them? It is just to make sure it is not misused,” said the officer when contacted.
But Janarthani said the measure was uncalled for when there are not enough shelters in the city to home vagrants.
“I note terrible apathy in these officers,” she said adding that by installing the steel dividers “they are making sure Kuala Lumpur is only exclusive for people of certain class”.
She pointed out that the Federal Territories Ministry, which is in charge of the city, had promised to schedule and host a town hall meeting with the non-governmental groups which run the soup kitchens in the city before implementing any preventive measures.
“They are not sincere, because the community was very willing to work with DBKL,” she said.
The ministry also could not be reached for comment.