JOHOR BARU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The streets of Johor Baru city centre, once abuzz with business activities and visitors from across the border, are now dotted with individuals who sit and wait for free food and handouts from generous passers-by.
A number of them can be seen hanging about near the old KTM station in Jalan Tun Abdul Razak, at the Laman Tun Sri Lanang outdoor carpark and in front of the shop lots in Jalan Ibrahim.
At times, the carpark resembles a campsite with towels or clothes hanging on tree branches, while some piles of dried leaves are used for a small fire to ward off mosquitoes.
The number of people in these places has risen significantly since the first movement control order (MCO) started in March last year.
Except for Sarawak state, the other 12 Malaysian states including Johor has been placed under the MCO until Feb 4 to curb the third wave of the coronavirus in the country.
In JB, many have chosen to live on the streets after they lost their jobs in Singapore.
Security guard Hoon Chin Ping, 52, said he resigned after working in the island republic for more than 10 years and returned to Johor last March as he thought that the MCO would last only for a month.
He is not homeless but takes daily trips by bus from his flat in Stulang to the city centre to get free meals from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and generous individuals as he remains unemployed.
"I heard about the free meals from my neighbour.
"I usually take the free bus provided by the state government and reach Jalan Tun Abdul Razak at 11am to wait for free food packets," he said when interviewed by StarMetro, a section of The Star daily.
"I head home after lunch and come back again around 4pm to collect food packets for dinner before returning home by 8pm, as that is when the free bus service ends," he said.
He added that some NGOs also handed out biscuits, bread, drinks and essential items such as towels, hygiene products, face masks and hand sanitisers.
A visit to the taxi stand in Jalan Tun Abdul Razak revealed that some of the people there know exactly when free meals would be distributed.
They would crane their necks to survey approaching traffic and when a vehicle stops nearby, they would flock to it to see what they are being offered.
According to Mr Hoon, who is originally from Perak, the people can get an average of seven to eight free meals a day.
"This covers my daily breakfast, lunch, dinner and supper, so I only need to use my savings from my previous job in Singapore to pay for my flat's RM124 monthly (S$41) rental," he explained.
"Two days before Christmas last month, a group came and handed out RM100 ang pow to those in the area. I was one of the lucky ones to receive it," he said.
Another person waiting for free food there was Ms Emanina Baharom, 45, who lost her job after the factory in Singapore closed down.
She used to earn a monthly pay of $2,000 working at an assembly line.
"I cannot find anything here that pays close to what I used to earn, but I have applied for a job at some factories in Taman Desa Cemerlang," she said. "So far, I have not heard back from them."
A friend, who understands her plight, lets her stay rent-free in her house.
"I also have some relatives in Singapore who send me money from time to time. At least I do not have to worry about my meals as I can get them for free here," she added.
Another individual, who wanted to be known only as Zahar, 36, said he became homeless last year after losing his job as a construction worker following a motorcycle accident.
He said his life started going downhill after his wife and three children left him in 2019.
"My employer let me go when I had to use crutches after the accident and my landlord evicted me when I could not pay the outstanding rent," he related. "These days, I bathe at the mosque or petrol stations in the city centre and sleep at a pedestrian bridge or anywhere on the street.
"When I get chased off by the authorities, I will find another spot," he added.
Similarly, Mr Chan Kam Kiang, 60, has been living in an alley in Taman Pelangi.
Homeless for more than five years now, he walks around barefooted in the area to pass the time, while relying on handouts from local businesses in the area.
"I help out at a morning market vegetable stall once a week to earn RM10, which I spend on drinks to keep my hunger at bay.
"During the previous MCO, I received many packs of free food, which I had to throw away because there was just too much food," he said. He said he refused to be placed in a welfare home as he would lose his freedom.