Sunday, October 8, 2017

A roof over the head, a meal on the table: A public suggestion to the Singapore Government on the homeless in Singapore

I am deeply saddened to read the report –“Homeless stereotypes busted: Most hold jobs, have been destitute for over a year”; CNA (Channel News Asia) Insider, October 7, 2017).

It is be without a roof over your head or not be able to have a decent meal.  Everyone needs at least a bunker and a bed to rest their weary head on.  Singapore is not the only country that have homeless citizens. There are many other countries across the globe that have homeless people; among them America, India, the Philippines, China, Australia, France, Canada and Germany – just to name a few.   

A United Nations global survey in 2005 found that an estimated 100 million people are homeless worldwide. Habitat for Humanity estimated in 2015 that 1.6 billion people around the world live in "inadequate shelter.” Sometimes we witness Good Samaritans milk human kindness by coming to the aid of homeless people where they give blankets and meals to homeless people.


In a first study on the homeless in Singapore, a group of professionals – SW101 who carried a survey were surprised that even though people had jobs, being without a proper home was what these citizens of lower skills and education had to grapple with.


At a social work seminar, a member of SW101, Dr Ng Kok Hoe said that “Homelessness is one of the most serious implications of this kind of wage conditions.” Dr Ng added: “It was a wake-up call for us that you could hold a job, and still be in such housing instability that you end up on the streets.”   


In one night, more than 100 people including SW101 members, staff from community organization Montfort Care and other volunteers combed many places all over Singapore to determine how many people could be homeless.  They discovered that 180 people were homeless with 29 not wanting to reveal the public places they were sleeping at.  The vast majority of homeless people were men.  The locations where they rested included parks, and shopping centres, public housing blocks, pedestrian walkways and town centres and these areas were most unhygienic: pest-invested, uncomfortable and urine-stained.


Dr Ng said that the survey carried out was not a nationwide count, hence “is likely to underestimate the actual extent of homelessness in Singapore.”


Difficult task for MSF

 The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) don’t have it easy; they assist an average of 300 cases of homelessness a year. Not being able to get along with the relatives or wanting to sleep near their places of work are some of the reasons why some people choose to sleep outside their homes.


But citizens who have much empathy for the less fortunate can rally around MSF to bring that elusive rainbow to the homeless people in Singapore.


Set up a Foundation or Charity

To help resolve the problem of homelessness, I propose that a foundation or charity be set up by a group of budding entrepreneurs or volunteers who want to make a difference in the lives of the homeless people and in doing so, will be able lift the human spirit. Youths are the ideal group to set up the foundation as they could be the leaders of tomorrow. I would name the organisation as Home-Grown Foundation because it can set up on home ground.  It can be a start-up with grants from the government to invest in this venture.


To help Home-Grown Foundation be successful, it has to grow to meet the needs of the homeless; and as such its resources and funds need to grow as well.


The foundation’s office can be built at a HDB void deck and staffed by a few people on a paid salary. Staff employed through support from the government and the community, could include those who can raise funds, secure sponsorship and provide counselling services. If is not feasible to hire a counsellor/s, these professionals can be seconded from MSF. Given that Singapore has a multi-racial society, counsellors should come from the 4 main religious groups viz, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist and Hindu where spiritual support or even pastoral care will help lift the dampened spirit.


Computers and office equipment such as photocopiers and furniture could be supplied by successful companies who can be ‘enticed’ to give back to society for a worthy cause.  Corporate responsibility should be part and parcel of successful companies. Meals for the homeless can be provided by food charities with expenses for the meals met by philanthropists or corporate giants. Of course, it will help if the government can provide some funding from money that is raised for community projects on national levels or through Comcare.


I know of two food charities that have been magnanimous in providing free meals for the needy – Willing Hearts run by Tony Tay and Free Food For All (FFFA) managed by Nizar Mohd Shariff. Both require funds to keep doing these kind deeds. FFFA gives a healthy wholesome meal that comprises rice, a veggie and a meat to some 300 beneficiaries in Tampines, Chai Chee, Bedok North and Bedok Reservoir.  Both Nizar and Tony Tay can be co-opted to run a canteen at the Foundation or the locations where sheltered homes are located.


Allow fund raising

MSF could allow the proposed foundation, with supervision and audits to raise funds as follows:

  • The Public can make a general donation – They can make a general donation on behalf of people experiencing homelessness, mental or physical health issues and addiction.
  • Become a monthly donor – As a monthly donor, you can help keep administration costs low, allowing the foundation to allocate more funds to programmes and services.
  • Make a gift in memory of a family member, friend or colleague, or in honour of someone special or in recognition of a special occasion.
  • Organise its own fundraiser

Building simple inexpensive homes/shelters  

There are a few options which the government may want to consider.

(a) Many homeless people pitch tents at our beaches, but have to leave when the NEA checks the area.

With approval from the government simple inexpensive homes can be constructed in a hived-off area at the beach or in places where there is some land that can be used for makeshift homes. The Singapore Land Authority (SLA) should be able to identify unused buildings such as old primary schools which have large halls and classrooms. These old schools could be converted into sheltered or makeshift homes


(b) Religious groups can also play a role in helping homeless Singaporeans find a resting place. There are also some places in churches like the Catholic Church in Bukit Timah which can be used for this purpose. The caretaker there can ensure that the sheltered home serves its primary purpose of providing a safe haven for those who cannot secure a permanent home – for one reason or the other. 


Teaching a man to fish


There are endless typhoon and storms that plague the Philippines throughout the year. Singapore is blessed to be free from such natural disasters. Yet being without a home is also to some extent – a disaster.


Through these calamities of natural disasters, help will come to those who are willing to help themselves. It is the Buddhist Charity –Tzi Chi Foundation that rises to the occasion and gives hope when all hope seems hopeless.  The Filipinos are sort of immune to their homes and property being destroyed during the natural disasters. Through these adversities, they have become resilient with the wonderful support of the volunteers from Tzi Chi Foundation who fervently believe that it is unwise to give fish, but far better to teach people to fish.


With this in mind the charity came up with the programme, CASH FOR WORK where they pay the affected families a fixed sum (500 pesos or $15 per person) to rebuild their homes. This programme was so popular that it attracted thousands of Filipinos to step forward to rebuild the damaged homes.  Good karma returns like a boomerang when kind deeds are done. Delighted and happy to see their homes rebuilt through the compassion of Tzi Chi, many Filipinos are today volunteers with this charity.


Like Tzi Chi Foundation, Caritas Humanitarian Aid & Relief Initiatives, Singapore or CHARIS for short has done much humanitarian work.  CHARIS is the umbrella body for overseas humanitarian aid by the Archdiocese of Singapore.

Humanitarian situations cover natural disasters and other adverse circumstances faced by the poor and needy, especially in developing countries in the region. Aid provided by CHARIS includes funding, medical aid and volunteers for immediate relief as well as the long-term support of those displaced and in need.

For a period of one week, from 29th Nov - 5 Dec 2015, 25 CHARIS volunteers came forward to help and experience working alongside the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda within Bogo City, Cebu, one of the shelter building sites that CHARIS supported with the generous donations from the Singapore Catholic community.

His Most Reverend José S. Palma, Archbishop of Cebu, commented, "The biggest donation came from all of you (CHARIS), and it came immediately, while government aid took months to arrive. The support and aid that we received from our brothers and sisters in Singapore provided us with the belief and strength to carry on. At first, when the disaster struck, it saddened us all that many lives were lost and many more displaced but the Philippines - even though we are a country with many natural disasters.

The house building project, aptly name Caritas Village, is run by The Archdiocese of Cebu’s Relief & Rehabilitation Unit (RRU), a group comprised of passionate young Filipinos intent on bringing hope back to their fellow displaced and poor Cebuano’s. Led by Father Charles Louis Jayme, the group has so far completed 48 out of 150 homes in the village of Bungtod, where 25 volunteers from Singapore went to help with basic construction work.

Cebu’s Relief & Rehabilitation Unit (RRU), a group comprised of passionate young Filipinos intent on bringing hope back to their fellow displaced and poor Cebuano’s. Led by Father Charles Louis Jayme, the group has so far completed 48 out of 150 homes in the village of Bungtod, where 25 volunteers from Singapore went to help with basic construction work.


RRU has also put in place a program of ‘Sweat Equity’ for the villagers who will live in the houses. The idea of this is to encourage a sense of ownership, equality and teamwork among the villagers to work together to rebuild their lives after the disaster. This is also to promote self-reliance and reduce the dependence on foreign aid groups who come in to build houses without requiring much help from the locals. Thus, each family in the village would need to complete about 400 hours of house building and would only be allocated a house by drawing of lots upon completion of the 400 hours.


Let charity also begin at home

( c )Taking the cue from both Tzi Chi Foundation and CHARIS, Home-Grown Foundation could, with the assistance of these two organisations help our homeless Singaporeans to build some inexpensive homes using the same concept of empowering them to build their own homes. MSF, the Ministry of National Development and the Ministry of Manpower can oversee the operations to ensure that the sheltered homes are clean and safe for living.


Skills training

Once the homeless people are housed with proper meals, they can be sent for skills training to enable them to earn better wages.  Once they become fiercely independent, they can apply for rented flats or even purchase it with government housing subsidies.


Submitted for your consideration, please.




Raymond Anthony Fernando
Positive reply from MSF today 10th Oct 2017

Dear Mr Fernando,
We refer to your email of 8 October 2017. Thank you for your feedback. We appreciate the time and effort you have put into the suggestions, which we will consider further.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) works closely with social service organisations and other government agencies to support families and individuals who may be at risk of homelessness. Our priority is to ensure that their immediate needs are met and they receive support to address their long-term housing and living needs. MSF also funds 3 Transitional Shelters, which provide shelter to homeless families and individuals who have exhausted all other means of accommodation. Social workers at these shelters will work with them to improve their family situations and on their long-term housing arrangements.

As you have highlighted, members of the public also play an important role in helping the homeless. For example, they may refer such persons to the nearest Social Service Office or Family Service Centre for assistance. They may also call the ComCare hotline at 1800-222-0000.

Thank you.

Justin Sim

Assistant Manager (Social Support Policy) | ComCare and Social Support Division

Ministry of Social and Family Development


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