The Million Dollar Question

no picture Effie Johari
Se registró el día 6 de junio de 2014
  • 15 Artículos
  • Edad 22

People lining up for food at a soup kitchen in Kuala Lumpur, June 23, 2014. Picture by Choo Choy May taken from

People lining up for food at a soup kitchen in Kuala Lumpur, June 23, 2014. Picture by Choo Choy May taken from

To me, the image that immediately accompanies the word ‘millionaire’ is that scene in a Duck Tales movie where Scrooge McDuck swims in a vault overflowing with money, as well as privately owned luxury items, branded sports cars and sprawling mansions. Given a general exposure to the lives of the filthy rich and an idealized bootstraps notion of economic mobility, I join the ranks of many young dreamers who once thought they could have all this frankly unnecessary possessions.

Of course this is only the material aspect of wealth. I once thought of a millionaire as a big spender without touching on the issues of ethics and moral responsibility. With these things in mind, if I suddenly found myself in the position of such wealth someday, I would use my economic advantage to advocate for a targeted and stigmatized group in society: the homeless. I would channel all my finances and energy in maintaining a homeless shelter.

The issue of homelessness, particularly the urban homeless, has gained significant traction in the news lately, both globally and within my local community. I received news of the anti-homeless spikes placed in public spaces in London in horror. Closer to home, the recent Minister of Federal Territories, Tengku Adnan, placed a fine on soup kitchens for feeding the homeless in our capital city Kuala Lumpur. The fine imposed was justified as a process of managing the city’s cleanliness. Emphasis was placed on what beggars and homeless people would do to the city’s image, in so positing them as nothing more than an eyesore and trash to be swept away.

Various media outlets and expressions of outrage on social media called the minister out on his ignorance, but it’s beyond that. It’s cruelty: an inability to view these people who have little to nothing in terms of material possessions, who don’t even have shelters to cover their heads, as fellow human beings. Not only is it a violation of their humanity, the minister is also ignoring the other purposes of soup kitchens and related welfare groups such as providing training, education, consultations and other forms of support for the homeless.

This particular piece of news had many outraged and up in arms: what kind of message does it send to the global community that our modern urban center is prioritizing aesthetics and cleanliness over the welfare of its denizens? Apparently, it’s not a message that other countries would bat an eye at either. The architecture and spatial construction of many urban centers speaks to this view of homeless people as subhuman. Efforts by the state or government to push the homeless to the periphery of urban space manifest themselves in the city’s infrastructure. They are widespread to the point of being normal.

Personal wealth means nothing when there are people who don’t even have a bed to call their own. It is clear to me that this culture totally desensitized to human suffering – a culture that ultimately comes from a violent and gaping income gap – cannot continue. Governments and organizations must deal with this issue head on instead of relegating the homeless to the shadows. Malaysia’s democratic community, for instance, have the responsibility of speaking for those whose voices are being suppressed.

As a supposed millionaire I can only offer palliation for these victims of an economic system that has failed them. Even as I am now, a person who is not in possession of vast amount of money, I can contribute to the cause by speaking up and volunteering, just like a lot of people in my community are doing. I would like to end this post with acknowledgments of appreciation to the hard work done by those organizations that work directly with homeless people, such as the soup kitchens, and for those fighting alongside the homeless against state mechanisms that seek to render them invisible.

Further reading:
On the situation in Malaysia.
On spatial exclusion and anti-homeless architecture.

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