SPOTTING a homeless man one day, I wondered what was going through his mind.
The troubling fact is that some of them actually have a family, but have been left to fend for themselves, like the case of a man recently rescued by the Welfare Department in an operation.
The man told the department and City Hall staff that he had seven children but had been living alone for a long time. He lived on his pension as a former driver but could not afford a home.
I know it's not fair to judge either the homeless or their family, but it's always heartbreaking to see a forlorn figure sleeping on a piece of cardboard under a pedestrian or overhead bridge.
Others live alone as sebatang kara as they do not have a family to turn to as their loved ones have died or their whereabouts are unknown.
Section 3 of the Destitute Person's Act calls for the homeless to be sent to welfare homes.
As far as I know, there is no specific law that makes it mandatory for children here to take care of their parents.
I remember watching a Malay TV drama (a few, actually) where the children send their parents to the old folk's home only to regret it later.
It's either that or the children leave their aged parent, usually the mother, behind in an old house in the village. The children try to persuade the mother to come to the city to live with them and when she does, they neglect her needs, causing her to run away.
Somehow, the mother finds her way back to her small house in the village.
In a more dramatic ending, the children would go back after some time only to learn that their mother or father has passed on. This shows how people can change with time. Though sharing a close-knit relationship with the family when young, many, after having families of their own, distance themselves from their parents.
Rescue efforts by the Welfare Department as well as free food from soup kitchens, to me, are just short-term solutions to the homeless problem.
This is because the homeless normally would not stay at the welfare homes for long. And while it is noble to distribute food to the vagrants, it doesn't solve the core problem of people living on the streets.
Continuous efforts should be made to track their next of kin and children must be taught to care for and look after their parents.
The elderly with an income (including pension and welfare allowances) should be given priority to rent public housing flats in the city, possibly with a discount on the regular RM124 due monthly.
Of course, if everyone plays their part, there will be no need to bind the children by law to care for their aged parents. There will not even be any homeless elderly folk in the first place.
This brings me to an old story told by a teacher. It's about a man who treats his mother badly and leaves her alone in a small hut while he lives a luxurious life in a bungalow.
One day he visits her and brings along his wife and daughter. He serves her a drink in a glass with a crack.
Seeing this, his daughter later serves him water in a cracked glass when they return home. When asked why the cracked glass, the girl says: "That is how you served grandmother. I'm practising it now so that when you are old I can do the same to you."