Homelessness in Malaysia

Homelessness in Malaysia

Research Analyst: Adrian Tan


Children are told there are necessities in life, they are told of food, water and shelter. Each human being has a fundamental human right to have a roof over their head. The definition of homelessness can vary but is usually understood as a state of having no shelter, such as a personal place for sleeping and daily activities). Being homeless also means being socially excluded and being poor. Statistics have shown that the average number of beggars rescued during operations has increased tenfold since 2009 compared to 2019. It is also estimated that the number has drastically increased due to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, there is technically no official statistic on the number of homeless people, with only a handful of Non-government organisations aware of this societal issue. 


Most homeless people in the capital Kuala Lumpur, are in fact Malaysian citizens, only 10 percent are non-Malaysians. Moreover, homeless Malaysians do not come from  Kuala Lumpur but are from other states. The affairs of the homeless are lumped with other marginalised groups, falling under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development which have four major policies which are National Social Policy, National Policy on Women, National Policy for the Elderly and National Social Welfare Policy. Yet, none of these policies actually give attention to homeless people. In fact, the government relies on the Destitute Persons Act 1977 (DPA 1977), where anyone who is deemed homeless by the government can be taken into custody and transferred to the relevant welfare institutions. However, DPA 1977 defines a destitute person as any person found begging or any idle person found in a public place. The DPA 1977 is controversial as although it aims to care for and rehabilitate destitute people, the primary concern is the law against human rights and there is no practical solution to tackle the homeless issue.

Causes for Homelessness

Nevertheless, not all homeless people are beggars, some hold minimally paid jobs but are forced to sleep on the streets due to the lack of a disposable income to afford rent. Many homeless also generally have low-level education causing them to work in low-skilled jobs. Those homeless people that don’t have a minimal paid job even consider begging a reliable source of income as the community generously supports them, further encouraging this behaviour. Many people are forced into homelessness, which can range from retirement or loss of a job, injuries, disabilities, incarceration history, discrimination, or personal trauma. 

Moreover, homeless people are stereotyped to be criminals and are unwilling to work for their own survival.  Furthermore, homeless people are shunned by society which reduces their access to basic needs such as healthcare, education, employment and financial services. Other than the aforementioned causes of homelessness, reasons for homelessness can be narrowed down into 3 reasons that Mackenzie and Chamberlain (2003) address. First, youth homelessness is usually due to a dysfunctional family where the youth spends the night without the knowledge of their parents, which would expose the youth to skipping school, and eventually becoming homeless and unemployed. Moreover, a housing crisis where the eviction of a person from their home due to accumulating debt until the person cannot afford stable housing. Lastly, family breakdown is a major reason for homelessness where the adult’s relationship breaks down. This is mostly due to domestic violence causing the victim to flee from abuse and feels threatened to a permanent home. Mackenzie & Chamberlain (2003) emphasises the importance of early intervention as it is the most promising way to prevent homelessness.

Actions Needed by the Government

There have been actions taken to review the Destitute Person Act 1977 which would be taken place on September 2023 to decide which government authority and legislation deals with the issue of homelessness. The new act aims to be inclusive and comprehensive of the powers and responsibilities of the federal and state governments and local authorities. Currently, most homeless people are afraid of government programmes as they fear being detained and sent to a shelter where they would lose their freedom. Changing this perception is crucial in order to gain the trust of the homeless to actually assist them.

Although there is much assistance provided for the homeless by the government and non-government organisations in Malaysia, many are focused on short-term initiatives and are not long-term. These initiatives do not tackle the root cause of homelessness and do not assist the homeless in getting out of the hardships, effectively reducing the homeless population. Such as Ops Qaseh which provides temporary shelter, a temporary solution. Without effectively assisting the homeless in assimilating becoming part of society, the situation will only worsen and which might lead to the further collapse of the short-term solutions as well.


Homelessness is not a societal issue that can be resolved, it can never be fully resolved as the causation of homelessness can only be defined as human nature. However, as a society, we have a duty to support, assist and assimilate these groups of people back on their feet after their turbulent times. Government and non-government organisations assisting the homeless live temporarily is noble, but their work has provided many homeless to grow reliant on their charity causing them to become lazier and refuse to look for jobs. Proper long-term initiatives are needed, or else crimes and societal problems would arise, damaging not just the image of Malaysia as a rapidly developing nation but also its progress to become a supportive society.

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