A Proper Plan for Destitute
Caring and charity for the needy, including homeless and beggars, is a righteous deed. This is a way of life to share happiness and bring justice to society. Al-Quran says to the effect that “You shall never be truly righteous until you spend of what you love and whatever you spend is known to Allah” (3:92). A hadith says to effect, anyone looks after and works for a poor person is like a warrior fighting for Allah’s cause, or like a person who fasts during the day and prays all night. This spirit of kindness is the essence in charity and it is a means to attain the pleasure of the Creator.
In recent years, and until recently, homeless and beggar has been headlines in Malaysian dailies. The Federal Territories Minister announced a suggestion to impose fine on charity givers in the endeavor to clean the city. His statement attracted unreceptive public responses. The minister expressed concern over the city cleanliness and the unwelcoming look of the city due to unwanted residents. Less to mention, it is a trend in many countries to impose fine on beggars. Many big cities introduced policies on annihilation of public space.
Looking at the public response, it seems that Malaysians are not ready to take similar move – to criminalize homeless and beggars or the charity giver. Malaysians do not overlook the matter that homeless and beggars are symptom of a bigger social and economic problem in our exertions towards a developed nation.
Indeed striking the balance between the physical development and the social and economic status of the people is among the greatest challenge faced by all developed nation. Indeed, development in all aspects should go hand in hand and must be properly planned.
Homeless and beggars must be part of our developed nation concern. Of course cleanliness is an important issue. Cleaning the city means annihilation of homeless and beggars from public area. Philosophically speaking, since all other places are private places where homeless or beggars have no right, where else is their space, except public places. To clean public places means to annihilate them from the space.
Thus, the pressing reason to clean the city is not only about the physical look of the city, it is for humanity and human rights. It is also about the basic rights of the people that is, the right to housing.
The authority is to shoulder the duties and responsibilities to assist the unfortunate, the needy, homeless and beggars through among other the retributive justice mechanisms. If there were to be removed from the site, there must be proper plan and place for them to continue living their life in the manner of second chance to live.
It is realized that there are different reasons for people to be homeless or beggars. It is worrisome that some homeless are not mere homeless or beggars are not mere beggars. Some may be homeless on their own choice; some others may be sick. Meanwhile there may be beggars who are making money and live in the ‘profession’ or there may be syndicated. People are exploited; even children are victimized. Be that as it may, there may be many true homeless or beggars.
One of the solutions is to have a strong legal back-up. The recent trends of anti-homeless and beggars world-wide are two. One is to give them shelter and the other is to criminalize.
In our case, the law may not purely criminal in nature although this is the most recent trends in many western countries or even our neighbour country. The legislation may forcefully send the homeless or beggars to a shelter home and resistance may be made an offence. In addition to criminal law, we must provide legislation to help and to re-house the homeless people. The law must design a more strategized planning to address all related factors contributing to this social problem. The law must also establish a more organized and properly backed-up enforcement mechanisms; through a properly strategized and well-managed inter-agencies activities to conform to the need of the homeless and beggars. A serious study on those factors should be carried out as this would help the Ministry in charge to provide proper solutions or plan for effective programs.
The existing law in Malaysia is the Destitute Persons Act (DPA). The Act was passed in 1977 and the latest amendment was in 1985. It provides for the care and rehabilitation of destitute persons and for the control of vagrancy. Historically speaking Destitute Persons Act was enacted to replace The Vagrants Act 1965. It has 16 sections. In a little three year time the DPA will be 40 years old.
DPA gives power to officers to require destitute persons, beggars and homeless, to reside in welfare home. In the process, the police officer may arrest any person who resist or escape or leave welfare home or fail to return to welfare home The Minister may establish welfare homes and creates rules for the homes’ management. The Minister also may appoint Board of Visitors to advise Director General of Social Welfare. Meanwhile, persons residing in the welfare home may engage in activities suitable for his employment outside or to maintain life in the welfare home.
Looking at the provisions, it seems that the current legislation has sufficient provisions to enable proper care and rehabilitation for destitute persons. Nonetheless, the reality seems to suggest that there is a lot more to be done. We need bigger number and strategized activities of enforcement agencies. We want to turn the moral rights to legal rights and thus follows, transforming moral duties to legal duties. We need bigger number of welfare homes. We need more comprehensive and suitable activities for the residents. In addition, a greater emphasis on social policy is needed.
Homelessness has no single, simple solution. It requires outcome-focused, research-based and targeted chances in government policies. Addressing the social and economic issues is the root of solutions to homeless and beggars.