Saturday, 25 August 2007

Beggars Can Be Choosers

There are two things that have stuck in my mind about today and both relate to the disadvantaged. We have just returned from Redhill, an estate not far away from our own.

There is an old Indian man who can be found most days, strategically positioned at the corner of the building and adjacent to the Redhill MRT station exit. In this location he can hustle pedestrians as they make their way to the road crossing.

He is begging. As people approach his hand will extend, palm upwards, seeking money. This is common place in cities such as Calcutta but was never publicly on view in Singapore when the current Minister Mentor was PM.

Perhaps even more disturbing was a second old man in his late seventies, doing his rounds of the recently vacated tables in the Redhill Food Centre.

When he thought no one was looking he would cast a furtive look around, sit down and finish the dregs of a soupy noodle bowl or munch on a cast aside chicken bone.

He must have spent a good hour going up and down the tables in this fashion. Whether he was suffering from dementia or genuinely hungry I do not know. The old man's actions made me feel profoundly sad.

In the first case, the law against begging should be strictly enforced. There is no need for it in modern Singapore as there are safety nets ranging from community charity to government assistance for the most needy. You cannot walk down a main thoroughfare without being propositioned by tissue sellers and that too is an activity akin to begging.

No one needs to beg. The government is aware of the dire financial straits of some of the elderly and recent budgets have identified funding to support his group. What appears to be missing is sufficient policing of these regulations.

I cannot help but wonder what the begging on the street situation will be when the two casinos come into action in 2010. There will need to be a crack down on this activity well before then and I am sure the authorities will do so.

In the second case, I would hope that some of the Redhill hawkers will quietly refer the old man's plight to community workers.

It's been a sobering afternoon all round.

1 comment:

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