Street Feeders of KL president Dylan Loke discusses trust-building and developing welcoming spaces for the homeless community.
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Despite their name, distributing food isn’t the top priority for Street Feeders of Kuala Lumpur — it’s creating connections between people through conversation.
The non-governmental organisation wants conversations to not just bridge people of different backgrounds, but to also bring to surface problems faced by the homeless community in the city that otherwise go unnoticed.
“Basic needs are important, but there’s so much more to a person than just the basic needs,” says Dylan Loke, the current president of Street Feeders of KL.
“Some of our street friends have immediate concerns unrelated to food that need to be addressed, and some have long term problems that we would look into.
“But another side to it is that sometimes they just want to talk about their life or talk about how they feel today,” he adds.
Street Feeders of KL began in 2011, formed by a group of friends led by founder Gary Liew who has since passed the torch to the next generation of volunteers.
Over the years, they have grown to amass a huge following for their monthly meet-ups that they’ve now dubbed “Jalan-Jalan Cari Kawan”.
Some of these nights out distributing food have been able to rope in upwards of 500 people in the past, which the group has taken as a sign of being on the right track (though they’ve since capped it to 100 volunteers per night to keep things organised).
Utilising this interest that they have garnered, Street Feeders of KL have frequently been able to collaborate with businesses, organisations and agencies offering different expertise such as medical care and grooming services on the street.
But most recently, they’ve introduced a monthly open house at a fixed location — RUANG by Think City. This is in addition to the ongoing Jalan-Jalan Cari Kawan activities, with the difference being that volunteers contribute food to a potluck and people are invited over for a communal feast.
“We’re trying to push the open house more, because it’s a covered space where there are tables and chairs. We want our street friends and volunteers to enjoy the meal and enjoy each other’s presence,” says Dylan.
He explains that a consistent sheltered space would encourage the development of programmes and activities for the community.
This is where the conversations with the community comes full circle because the information gathered will help the team tailor events in the space to best cater to the needs of the community.
“It would allow us to introduce services and training to our street friends, because the problem with trying to do these programmes on the streets outside is that there are no conducive spaces. So, there’s potential for growing our outreach this way.
“It is just an idea for now. But it’s a safe space and we have developed enough trust at this point to develop this further.”
And while that idea matures, the team aims to strengthen the Jalan-Jalan Cari Kawan programme as an advocacy movement that both expands their network of volunteers and also for spreading the word to the homeless community of their open house programme.
“We have also been participating in other organisations’ coordinated efforts to gather data and information,” Dylan adds.
“What we would like to see is our efforts leading towards more services that our street friends say they need, not just by us, but by other NGOs and government agencies too.”
Street Feeders of KL utilises the Sedunia platform to mobilise volunteers. Check out their Sedunia page to find out how you can be a part of the next Jalan-Jalan Cari Kawan and the monthly open house.