KUALA LUMPUR: The mushrooming of soup kitchens in the city to alleviate the plight of the homeless has unwittingly created another problem — food wastage.
Homelessness is a longstanding issue in Malaysia, and dozens of organisations are feeding the poor in the capital.
There is sparse data on the number of homeless people in the city, but Welfare Department figures from 2010 put it at 2,500.
Since an attempted soup kitchen ban in the city in 2014 was rolled back after public outcry, people have flocked to non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to offer their help.
But, the lack of coordination among organisations and ad-hoc groups had led to more food being distributed than can be eaten.
A homeless person can get up to four or five packets of food per meal if he goes to different places.
The wastage has prompted some organisations to cease carrying out street feeding.
Chun Wah Hoo, the director of ngohub.asia, said there was a need to resolve this problem.
“The homeless situation may be a persistent condition that may never have a complete solution. But better solutions than what we have now must be found.”
The problem is expected to be more acute during Ramadan.
Many people will seek to do good during the holy month by handing out food.
Some well-established soup kitchens are scaling down their food distribution to avoid wastage.
NGOs said independent volunteers should join existing soup kitchens to ensure that the distribution of food was coordinated effectively.
Pertiwi Soup Kitchen founder Munirah Abdul Hamid said NGOs had problems when individuals or ad-hoc groups gave away food to the homeless in the same area and time.
“There have been incidents where our volunteers were handing out food and a group of people set up camp next to us.
“When we told them to move to another area, they became angry.”
Munirah said giving out food was how NGOs engaged the homeless to get more information about their problems.
“Homelessness is more than people living under bridges or those who are poor. There is more to it than that and we are trying to get to the bottom of it.”
Kechara Soup Kitchen project director Justin Cheah said people had told him that feeding the homeless only made them lazy and depend on handouts.
“If you are a normal person, would you live without a home and wait for food handouts?
“We, at Kechara Soup Kitchen, do not go out to the streets every day. We have a schedule that we work out with other NGOs. And, we cover a specific location so that we do not waste food.”
He said like Pertiwi Soup Kitchen, Kechara Soup Kitchen tried to help the homeless by getting them jobs and attending to their medical needs.
“Food is one way for us to get them to open up. The homeless are not consistent in their schedules. If you see them today, you might not see them again at the next round of food distribution.
“So, when you have them there in front of you, you have to do your best to help them. Hunger is only the surface of the problem.”
Street Feeders of KL co-founder and president Alexander Jayadass said to prevent wastage, his group avoided handing out perishable food.
“We try to give the homeless buns, bottled water, biscuits and snacks, instead of nasi lemak or mee hoon.”
Alexander said this prevented wastage as the food lasted longer.
“Some of them may have more than one food packet and they cannot finish them all.
“By the time they want to eat the food, it may be spoiled.
“But cookies, buns and bottled water last longer, and they can keep them for a few days.”