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Soup kitchens stir up a storm in Kuala Lumpur

Just over a week ago, William Cheah was so annoyed by Federal Territories minister Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor wanting to ban soup kitchens within a 2km radius of Lot 10 in Bukit Binang, he posted on his Facebook account that come Monday (July 7) he would be standing outside one of the soup kitchens there with a foldable table stacked with 100 packets of nasi lemak and a sign saying “Free Food for The Homeless Please Take One.”

“And I want to see the FT minister come and take those away from me. I want to see you come down there and give me a fine. Or whatever.

“I can stand when people make mistakes. But I can't stand stupidity that intentionally harms people. Gosh, I am so pissed,” he wrote.

His Facebook status was shared 118 times with about 700 likes. A number of his Facebook friends, equally upset over the proposed ban and treatment of the homeless, wanted to join him. And they did.

Of the 40 or so people who showed up, Cheah personally knew only five.

After introducing themselves and bonding for a bit, they got down to distributing food and drinks to the homeless in the Jalan Imbi area before moving on to Kotaraya-Cahaya Suria to give out the rest.

Among those who turned up was Bukit Bintang Umno Youth exco member Mohd Fazrul Haron who was meeting Cheah for the first time.

Fazrul says he had to stand up against the proposed ban because he personally did not feel it was right.

“If people can't afford, are hungry and don't get food, they might start stealing so that they can eat,” he says.

He says it is absurd to lump the homeless as one because, while some are there by choice, others are forced by circumstances. Some are really poor, some disabled and can't work, some are neglected and thrown out by their families and some have no identification card (IC).

“How are they supposed to get jobs if they have no ICs?” he asks.

He believes that the soup kitchens and feeding the homeless are more than just about giving out food.

“When we give food, we also give them semangat (lift their spirits). We sit and talk with them, share cigarettes and give them kasih sayang (care and affection),” he says.

Cheah himself knows how it is to hit rock bottom. Some 15 years ago, he was homeless. He slept in his car, brushed his teeth and showered in the office and had to use the coins in his piggy bank for food.

In those dark days, he says, family, friends and strangers helped him until he was able to crawl out of the hole he was in. Today, he is the owner of a security and human resources outsourcing company.

Tengku Adnan also came under fire for saying that people found giving money to beggars would have to pay a fine of 150 ringgit (US$47.10), and women, family and community development minister Rohani Abdul Karim incurred the wrath of the public when she said NGOs should stop “spoiling” the homeless with free food and shelter and that tourists were taking advantage of the soup kitchen.

PM Makes Visit

All this had the social media fired up.

Shocked and appalled, people on both sides of the political divide hit out at what they saw as a lack of compassion.

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Pertiwi Soup Kitchen volunteers, right, distribute food to homeless people in Kuala Lumpur on July 7. Established and managed by Pertubuhan Tindakan Wanita Islam (PERTIWI), one of Malaysia's longest running NGOs, the Soup Kitchen runs four days a week and provides at least 500 packets of food to the needy at various locations in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. (AFP)

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