Vincent Tan, take care of the homeless

Housing is absolutely essential to human flourishing. Without stable shelter, it all falls apart.

– Matthew Desmond, American sociologist

The rich giving to the poor — that’s a normal act of kindness and charity and the right thing to do. The more affluent have been helping the less fortunate, ever since class divides us, I suppose.

Isn’t it pleasing and wonderful to hear of the rich and famous announcing that they would be donating a huge chunk of their wealth to charity upon their death.

Last Saturday, we heard Berjaya Corporation Bhd founder and executive chairman Tan Sri Vincent Tan announcing that he would give half of his wealth to charity when he is no longer around.

I believe this was the second public announcement the billionaire made on the issue and it’s great that he had repeated it. Perhaps, that’s a double assurance that the pledge will be honoured. Aha.

I am not sure whether any filthy rich Sarawakian has made a similar pledge as Tan. Perhaps, some had; only that I didn’t hear about it.

To me, the most significant part of Tan’s pledge was his desire to help the underprivileged get a roof over their heads — that is, to own an affordable home.

Tan has nailed it when he declared that “housing is a basic need of human beings and essential for a person’s sense of dignity, safety and inclusion”.

Those of us involved in welfare and charitable works must surely have witnessed the agony and pain of the homeless in our midst. What could be worse than not having a home to return to?

For a man without a home is a man without dignity, without a sense of belonging in this world. He is also like a foreigner in his own country or worse, a man totally lost and without a nation.  

Seriously, let us reflect for two minutes and imagine ourselves not having a roof over our heads and with no place to go home to. What do you think that kind of pain and mental torture is like?

Surely, such a cruel and meaningless life is not worth living. To many who are homeless, this is as real as it gets.

I can classify the homeless into two categories.

First, there is the more severe case of homeless people who are victims of circumstances. They are likely to be alone, with no family connections, with little education or even illiterate. Some are physically challenged which makes it difficult for them to lead normal lives.

This group is totally dependent on the government or on charity to survive. Tan’s contribution is sorely needed by this group.

Recently, a Kuala Lumpur-based NGO stated that “Malaysia has to meet the first and very important target of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on ‘No Poverty’ and there is even an All-Party Parliamentary Group on SDGs”.

“If we want to achieve the objective of SDGs — leaving no one behind — surely the homeless are the priority group to start with,” it said. “I am in support of the declaration that no one must be left behind.”

To philanthropists like Tan, he should establish homes for the destitute and build cheap but liveable flats or apartments for the homeless. These people do not need cash, they need a place to call home.

The second category of “homeless” people are those who move from inter-district or inter-state for long-term employment in the bigger towns and cities.

Because they have just started out in life on a new job, owning a home is beyond their reach. These are mostly young people and fresh graduates.

They are also classified as “homeless” as they do not own a roof over their heads and could just be renting a room or a small house of apartment in the city.

On this front, I am very happy to hear from Tan that “Berjaya has successfully designed and built a five-bedroom four-bathroom/toilet unit of 900 sq ft and a four-bedroom three-bathroom/toilet unit of 750 sq ft.

“The private sector should be prepared to sell affordable houses with a price range of RM250,000 and RM300,000 for a 900 sq ft apartment in different cities and towns in Malaysia,” he said.

I think housing developers should heed Tan’s call to expand the availability and accessibility of affordable homes.

I wouldn’t dare claim that housing unaffordability is now an increasingly critical social issue but if it isn’t yet, then it should be. Tan, being also a developer himself, should know the housing needs better.

We should all appreciate the Berjaya boss’ generosity to share his fortune with his fellow Malaysians.

To me, Tan’s greatest legacy in his pledge to give back is to provide a simple abode for the destitute and ensure that as many of his fellow Malaysians as possible are able to own a home.

That will be a legacy, the homeless — one of the most marginalised groups of people in the country — will surely cherish for as long as they live.

The views expressed here are those of the columnist and do not necessarily represent the views of New Sarawak Tribune.