Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had to publicly defend handing a homeless man A$5 (RM15) as it was said to be against the directive of Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle.
The mayor had earlier voiced his hard-line stand on homelessness in Melbourne. He said giving money to beggars would only encourage further begging and it “entrenches” homelessness within the city.
“Please stop coming into the city and dropping off tents, and bedding and clothing and blankets,” Doyle said last week. “It’s misguided.”
Doyle’s unyielding position on the homeless reminds us of Federal Territories Minister Datuk Seri Tengku Adnan Tengku Mansor’s announcement on the ban of soup kitchens within a 2km radius of the heart of Kuala Lumpur commercial and tourism hub.
“This activity just encourages people to remain homeless and jobless. There have been many such people whom we have found jobs for, who returned to that life because they said it is easier,” Tengku Adnan said in July 2014.
However, barely a month later he recanted that decision, saying soup kitchens were permitted to operate as usual but they would be stringently monitored by Kuala Lumpur City Hall on the cleanliness aspect.
That was one of Tengku Adnan’s missteps, but all is forgiven as the soup kitchens are operating as usual. It did leave a bad taste among caring citizens who wanted to see that the homeless don’t go hungry.
In Turnbull’s case, he was also criticised for giving so little when he has so much.
“Turnbull — a man with a A$133 million net worth, a man who carries a stash of bank notes in a money clip, a man who donated a cool A$1 million to his own election campaign — could only spare a fiver to shove in another, poorer man’s coffee cup,” Erin Stewart wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald. “The reality is that Turnbull’s government may cause homelessness.”
In his defence, Turnbull saying that it was a “human reaction” and was not meant to be a symbol of encouraging homelessness in Australia.
It is case of damned if you do, damned if you don’t. This is especially so if you are holding public office. Unfortunately, this good deed didn’t go unpunished.
Meanwhile in Bogota, Mayor Enrique Penalosa was criticised for doing nothing but putting homeless people and drug addicts on buses and moving them to other cities.
The city government has been dumping its “undesirables” to avoid bad press about its failed operation to clean up Bogota. This approach was used recently in the Klang Valley too.
The only way we can stop such injustice and inhumane treatment of our poorer fellow citizens to hold the authorities accountable for their actions. By speaking up for those who were unable to, we managed to get the soup kitchens to continue to operate in the heart of the city.