During the early hours of 15 March 2009, a group of us Citizen Journalists (CJ) roamed the streets of Georgetown, Penang, looking for the homeless. We have been discussing about the fate of the homeless in Penang during one of our Citizen Journalism class and decided to do a documentary about it. With the help of a new friend, Vincent Lim of Lightworks, we gathered courage to approach a few of the homeless who knew Vincent. Vincent has been taking care of these homeless people and he knows them by name, age and even their characters.
The state of Penang has probably done a good job reducing the numbers of beggars and homeless for the past 1 year, but there are still many who are wandering around and sleeping behind Oriental Hotel (opposite Odeon Cinema), the underpass of Prangin Mall and the Komtar bus station.
My fellow CJ Lucia Lai interviewed an Indian homeless man and asked why he does not seek help from the Welfare Dept, he claimed that the Welfare Dept has sent many of the homeless to Tanjung Rambutan and that was the reason he refused help.
Another fellow CJ Lilian Chan, interviewed a Chinese man who was more than willing to go with the Welfare Dept. so that he can be taken care of. End of the day, the state is responsible for the welfare of its citizens, especially the poor and the homeless.We are currently editing the video and will send a copy of the video to Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
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Star 31 July 2008 It was a heart-wrenching sight when police and state welfare officers came across 72-year-old Wong Koh Meng in the heart of George Town. Plastic bags and newspaper had been carefully lined along a five-foot way outside Komtar where his sick wife was resting under some thin blankets to protect her from the cold.
The couple, unemployed and childless, had been huddled there for four days before they were picked up in a joint raid conducted by the state North-East district welfare office, Rela, Penang Municipal Council, police, Islamic Affairs Department, state Immigration Department and Penang Hospital.
Wong, who sat guarding his wife next to a battered wheelchair and a plastic luggage bag containing their only belongings, submitted readily to officers after producing his identification card.
He carefully packed up the blankets and disposed the old newspaper in a nearby rubbish bin, demonstrating a civic mindedness now considered rare.
It was learned that he had recently ran away from a charity home in Rifle Range with his wife, who suffered a stroke three years ago, after he was pressured to subscribe to the owner’s religious beliefs.
“She is sick and there is no one to take care of her, if not, I would be able to work,” he said sadly.
State Health, Welfare and Caring Society Committee chairman Phee Boon Poh was present during the first joint operation to round up beggars and vagabonds this year.
“The state has received many complaints that beggars have been terrorising local and foreign tourists at food outlets by refusing to leave until a donation was given.
“Although we are sympathetic with their situation, we cannot allow beggars and the homeless to impede on other people’s rights and jeopardise Penang’s image as a tourist destination,” he said during a press conference outside the State Assembly hall after proceedings wrapped later in the day.
He added that more frequent operations to round up vagabonds would be conducted to protect George Town’s bid to enhance tourism appeal after its successful listing as a World Unesco World Heritage Site.
Vagabonds rounded up in the operation, who still have families, would be returned to their care while those who had none would be placed at the Rumah Seri Kenangan welfare home for a month until more permanent solutions could be found, Phee added.
“Those suspected of facing mental illnesses were sent to the Penang Hospital for examination, suspected drug addicts were handed over to the police and the two beggars who are foreign nationals will be handled by the state Immigration Department,” he said.