Melina Yeoh participated in the ‘Being Homeless for a Night’, Ministry of the Poor Lenten outreach activity held recently

By Melina Yeoh

Mar 19 2023

KUALA LUMPUR – Being homeless for a night was a heart-warming lesson in human fraternity among the last, the lost and the least. Participating in this Archdiocesan Office for Human Development (AOHD) Lenten Campaign with the Ministry of Poor, was a humbling experience for us 17 Catholics, who went to sleep on the streets of Chow Kit to be with the homeless and to know them better. At every interaction we experienced their “love thy neighbour” when they helped us in words and in deeds.

Our day started with Mass at Cardijn House chapel by AOHD Ecclesiastical Assistant, Fr Albet Arockiasamy, at 5.00pm followed by a briefing from Ms Shanti of Yayasan Chow Kit and Encik Awaludin from Chow Kit Youth at KL Krash Pad on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman at 7.00pm. Then off we went with only the clothes on our backs, cardboards tucked under our arms and our IC for police checks.

Our group of 17 bravehearts, aged from 17 to 79 years old, came from eight different parishes in the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, including the Church of the Visitation, Seremban. As hungry souls we rushed to the soup kitchen at Medan Tuanku but it was past the 8.00pm closing time. So, we headed to a street behind KL Krash Pad near a hotel and found the homeless queueing for nasi lemak, drinking water and having a packet of Chrysanthemum tea each. Here we met two uncles who advised us to be alert. One said he was robbed while sleeping in the Bangkok Bank area and lost everything including his IC. He told us to take turns sleeping so that those awake could be on guard. He shared that he used to sleep on the streets, now he has a room. He still comes here every evening to be with his friends.

A group of pak ciks across the road told us that we were lucky because no food was distributed on some Mondays, and that more food was given out from Thursdays until the weekends. During the puasa month, food is even more in abundance. It turned out there was no worry about food. In the two hours here, we had five rounds of hot meals of either nasi lemak or nasi lauk kari ayam. There was even one meal with fish, rice, chicken with pineapple curry and Chinese herbal tea.

We also saw mothers with their young children. One truck arrived to drop off preloved clothes and children’s toys. When a boy did not get the toy he wanted, a Samaritan offered to buy him ice cream. Soon a group of children followed him to a nearby 7-Eleven. What was surprising was half of the children opted for instant cup noodle instead of ice cream. After a couple of hours, we explored other streets. We split into four groups and went our separate ways. We also distributed the excess meal boxes and drinks we had.

The love from our street brothers is always flowing, even when we searched for a safe place to sleep. One street brother advised us to find a brightly lit place to avoid mosquitoes. Also to avoid banks as the security guards would chase us away. When we chose a clean, unoccupied brightly lit corridor a street brother walked up and told us that we would be drenched if it rained. Then he showed us a more suitable adjacent block where he was sleeping. It is sheltered and the aunty who opens the shop only comes at 8.30am. The corridor next to his was empty but he said that the shop lot is vacant and no one has cleaned the corridor for a long time.

A street brother, Fred (not his real name), shares a space with an uncle who loves to play snooker and speaks excellent English. They were so friendly that all four of us decided to set up home in the same corridor even though there was a clean empty lot two corridors away. Fred is a very lively character. He confessed he had done bad things but did not elaborate. He said his bilik bocor air and that’s why he’s sleeping on the streets. When the shop opens, he usually goes to an NGO further up the street for food and a shower. The sweater he wore came from the NGO. Fred advised us to put our sandals, shoes and any belongings under the cardboard or they would be stolen. The weather was hot and humid, making it difficult to sleep. Only Joshua, one of the participants, managed to sleep for four hours. I, who usually sleep like a log, woke up each hour due to the unbearable heat. Johnny, another participant, slept the least, he kept thinking about his air-conditioned bedroom and his soft fluffy pillows.

Two of the other groups found refuge sleeping on an overhead bridge. They said it was cool but the revving motorbike noise of the Mat Rempits throughout the night made it difficult to sleep. For toilet facilities, some went to the mamak restaurant across the road. Johnny went to the Shell station further up and he felt it was quite dangerous as a couple of drug addicts were having a big argument.

The streets were busy at night, people passed by without giving us much notice. Somewhere in the night, I asked a passer-by for the time. He told me and one hour later, while I was sleeping, he came back and gave me his watch. I was very surprised and touched. As for food, even at 12.50am (I now had a watch), while we were sleeping, someone passed each of us a packet of rice with ayam masak merah. Johnny and I were only half asleep, so we ate.

During the night, a drunk street brother came by, stared at us but then just reached out to get his cardboard which was slotted underneath the pipes on the wall. He then laid his bed further up next door and slept. I didn’t feel that I was in danger, probably because I was in a group. An AOHD “security team” was also on patrol, discreetly checking on us. The hours dragged by, it was difficult to sleep with the heat and humidity. If I was alone on the streets, I would feel the danger of being exposed to all risks, I would be afraid that my IC and other precious possessions would be stolen. I only did it for one night; Fred and friends do it every day.

On an emotional level, now whenever I see anyone walking on the streets carrying a cardboard, I feel more connected to them, that we have shared an experience together. I pray that they find a safe place to sleep, that they are shielded from rain and any external danger. As for our dear friend Fred, we promised to share that wantan mee he yearned for.

At 6.00am, we all gathered back at KL Krash Pad and we headed to a nearby mamak stall for breakfast with Fr Andrew Manickam OFM Cap, reflecting on what we had been through and knowing the struggle of what the homeless people have to go through every day. We pray that through this activity, we will change our way of living and be more appreciative of what we have and what we can do to help more people in need. – Herald Malaysia