SEBERANG PERAI, June 8 — They had travelled here from their home in Kelantan — a journey of over 300 kilometres — hoping to find a job.
Instead, they ended up sleeping by the roadside in Bukit Mertajam and selling recyclables from rubbish bins just to get by.
Shah and Siti (the names they want used for this article) got married in Kelantan in April. Like all newlyweds, the plan was to settle down and start a family but neither of them were able to get a job.
Instead of relying on Shah’s family for help, they decided to travel to Penang in hopes of more job opportunities.
“We packed two large bags on Shah’s motorcycle and travelled to Bukit Mertajam in Penang in early May with only RM100 savings,” Siti said, adding that she had adopted a stray kitten before that so she brought it along too.
The trip took them one whole day and once they arrived, Siti said they stayed with some distant relatives for a few days but there was hardly any space for them.
“We did not want to impose on their hospitality so we moved out and went to stay in a mosque for a few days,” she said.
In the meantime, they went out to look for jobs. They went to coffee shops, food stalls, petrol stations, sundry shops and convenience stores to ask for jobs but no one would hire them.
Shah, 21, is a Form Two dropout while Siti, 19, is a Form Four dropout. Siti used to work at a coffee shop while Shah was an odd job worker in Kelantan.
The couple started scavenging for recyclables from rubbish bins and selling the cardboard boxes, newspapers and aluminium cans to make ends meet.
Some days, they made around RM20 to RM30 but on other days, they barely made more than RM10.
“We want to save up to rent a flat so I will save up any money we make by putting it in my empty portable gas tank. We are very careful not to overspend and use as little of the money as possible for food,” Siti explained.
When the couple moved to another housing area in Bukit Mertajam, they decided to sleep on the streets as they continued to scavenge for recyclable items while still asking around for jobs.
“We are not picky, we do not mind any job, I can help out at a food stall, I can wash dishes, I will work as long as someone gives me a job,” Siti said.
She stressed that they are not looking for handouts or donations as both of them are young and able to work.
When Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim was notified about their situation, he immediately put them in a hotel for the night before making arrangements to move them into a rented flat.
Siti is thankful that they now have a place to stay and that they do not have to worry about whether they can afford their next meal.
When asked why they decided to venture so far from Kelantan in search of jobs, Siti said she was originally from Machang Bubuk in Bukit Mertajam so they wanted to come here to try their luck.
“Shah couldn’t get any jobs since April and I lost my job too so we thought we would travel here and try our luck here since there are more businesses and shops here,” she said.
Sim has committed to pay for the flat’s rental until they are able to pay the rent on their own once they manage to secure jobs.
According to Sim, there have been several job offers for Shah since he highlighted their case on his social media.
“Now that there is a lockdown, I told them to rest at their new home and collect themselves first before deciding on the jobs they want to take up,” he said.
Both Sim and Machang Bubuk assemblyman Lee Khai Loon also contributed some funds and groceries to the couple.
Sim also bought the couple new handphones and clothes.
Siti said they now have enough savings and food items to last them a couple months but they hoped that they are able to start work as soon as the lockdown order is lifted.
Shah and Siti’s story is not the only one of its kind that both Sim and Lee have encountered over the past year since MCO 1.0 in 2020.
“There are a rising number of people becoming jobless and subsequently homeless due to the MCO and the pandemic,” Sim said.
Sim has personally received around 20 to 30 calls and messages each week from people asking for help, most of whom are people who have lost their income.
“These are not only people in Bukit Mertajam, I have been getting messages on all my social media platforms and on my phone from people from the whole country, even as far as Sabah and Sarawak, asking for help,” he said.
He said many were not asking for handouts, they had merely fallen on bad times and needed a boost to help them get through the rough patch, just like Shah and Siti.
According to Lee, since MCO 1.0, more than 2,000 families have sought his office’s help for food items and some for shelter as they couldn’t afford to pay rent.
“Since MCO 3.0, we have distributed food items to more than 200 families in my constituency who have either lost their jobs, loss of income, the elderly who could not work, single parents and the disabled,” he said.
He said his office has also mediated between landlords and tenants to allow some families to stay on when they couldn’t pay their rent.
“We asked the landlords to give their tenants some time instead of evicting them so that they don’t lose their homes too on top of losing their income,” he said.
According to the statistics, there are about 741,600 of unemployed persons in the country as at August 2020, which was an increase of 42.6 per cent compared to August 2019.
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