Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah

KUCHING: The Ministry of Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Childhood Development is fine-tuning a proposal on a long-term programme for the homeless in Sarawak.

Its minister Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah said the proposed programme included providing shelter for the homeless community here.

“The proposal will be submitted to the state Cabinet for approval because this programme involved money and policies,” she told reporters after presenting government grants to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) at Wisma Kebajikan, Petra Jaya yesterday.

She said Sibu has been chosen for a pilot project as a suitable location had been identified there, and the ministry was working with Sibu Resident on the matter.

“The concept will be different from the temporary shelter for the homeless during the movement control order (MCO) period.

“This is because many homeless do not want to be placed in an institution, they want to be free, they want freedom, but at the same time we need to put a roof over their head,” she explained.

She said the ministry was looking at the good practices implemented in Pahang and Japan towards helping the homeless.

“In Japan, they have a system where tents are put up in the evening for the homeless to sleep in. In the morning they dismantle it and clean the place without leaving a trace of dirt.

“However, we will do it differently here. When the shelter is in place, there must also be an element of independence and accountability. The homeless community must learn to be independent and have jobs, this is important because even if they are homeless, they still have their self-worth and self-respect,” she pointed out.

Fatimah said her ministry had done profiling of each homeless in the state.

“Through profiling, we understand them better and their attitude. From that, we understand they want to be free, and that is alright.

“So, now we have to think from their perspective and provide them a proper place where they eat, shower and sleep,” she said, adding that some homeless had families but due to problems with the other family members, they chose not to go home.

On the number of homeless in the state, Fatimah disclosed that between Jan 1 and March 17 this year, there were 114 of them.

“During the MCO period from March 18 till May 12, there were 145 recorded which showed an increase of 21 percent homeless in the state,” she said.

She said as of May 12, Miri recorded the highest number of homeless with 42 persons, followed by Bintulu (27), Kuching (23), Sibu (17),  Sri Aman (12), Sarikei (seven), Limbang (six), Kapit (three), two each in Serian, Betong, Song, and one each at Bau and Belaga.

On the health status of the 145 homeless, 85 (58 percent) were physically sound, 52 have mental problems, five are former drug addicts, and the rest suffered from financial and hearing problems.