The Online Citizen

Sleepless in Singapore

April 29
11:01 2009

The country is ill-equipped to cope with a possible rise in homelessness

In February this year, the grim reality of the economic downturn in the United States was dramatically brought home to Americans by the Oprah Winfrey Show when it highlighted a “tent-city” in Sacramento that had more than 150 residents.  Homelessness is a perennial bugbear in the US, but recently it has worsened markedly: various states have reported a surge in the number of people applying for shelter, from 40% in New York to 58% in Louisville.  The government has since been scrambling to cope with the deteriorating situation.

A similar situation could arise in Singapore, despite official pronouncements that “there are no homeless, destitute or starving people” in the country.  The reality is that there were homeless people even during the boom years, but official rectitude has made it difficult to estimate the numbers or to properly assess the cause of their homelessness.

The government’s stance on the issue is clear: a brief parliamentary debate in 2007 on the plight of several homeless families elicited the government’s response that they were “homeless by choice”.  Nevertheless the government still seems rather uneasy about it.  When the predicament of some homeless folk was notably brought to light in 2007 by local filmmaker Martyn See, the censors deemed Mr See’s short film to be unsuitable for those under 16.

The problem is that official attitudes could hinder a measured response to the problem.  Anecdotal accounts suggest that the number of homeless in Singapore could be on the rise in recent months, with social workers relating a sharp uptick in the number of those trying to get admission into shelters.  The situation could worsen as the downturn deepens, given that unemployment as well as foreclosures are on the rise.

Already, the country seems be ill-equipped to cope with a possible increase in the number of homeless people.  The government would prefer the individual to depend on his extended family for help, but such support would be taxed by the severity of the current downturn as well as the decline of the extended family due to low birth-rates over the past years.  The Housing and Development Board (HDB) does offer rental units for homeless folk, but such units are comparatively few in number and there is usually a long waitlist for them, though HDB does provide interim housing to those who are waiting.  It has also recently tightened its criteria for determining who is eligible for rental housing: those who have bought and sold a flat more than twice are permanently barred from renting or even from getting a housing loan from HDB. 

Moreover, there are few shelters that the homeless can turn to, with only one that specialises in displaced families that has room for about thirty families.  Some homeless folk have made their homes in public parks, but their fate is uncertain after the National Parks Board this month reintroduced a system of permits that it did away with in 2004 to regulate those who want to camp in parks.

Help for the homeless, whether private or public, would surely be hindered by the lack of information about the extent of the problem.  On that score, the government certainly needs to do more.  It is instructive that those who fall into homelessness and destitution often face an uphill task to climb out of their predicament – the Sacramento “tent city”, for example, has been existence for a decade and was no recent phenomenon – so what may seem to be a temporary problem brought on by the current recession could in time turn out to be something more durable than expected.



    Well we told the government and HDB over the years and repeatly, why are the HDB flats priced so high and at one stage it went up like 30K for every Q. I know I was part of that era and quickly had to make a decision to purchase a flat which I still live in. Every action has a equal implication and this is the result after years of high priced properties not in line with pay increases ( simple reason though for now ) . The other bug bear are the lame reason for the increases and the unfair blame to those who lost their flats. So with so many going to loose their jobs ( Mr Lim said so this morning ) and perhaps their homes too, are we going to hear a broken record again and again and again! The point is why can’t the HDB let these people keep their flats till the economy pick up again. My bet is it won’t for a long time and the government will not be able to hide from their short sighted policies, in all aspects of our lives. Anyway I got a conservancy rebate for this month, thank you!

  • Daniel

    Whenever people ask those clowns why HDB flat is so high price, the answer is always “It is the market-price. What to do, it happens”. But everyone knows that it means “It is our greed. Greed is good ! Greed has no limit with no transparency and accountability ! Not happy ? What can you do anyway ? Protest or Move on ? Your choice.”


    Same with education and medical cost… price!
    In the end we suffer the brunt of it.
    Can’t move on but can put in a protect vote at the next election!

  • Doublespeak

    “Moreover, there are few shelters that the homeless can turn to, with only one that specialises in displaced families that has room for about thirty families. ”

    The horrible & heartless thing is that the government/town council even tries to make sleeping in void deck less “conducive”.

    I have observed in a resident’s corner when they first built the place, the seats were just one long strip and did not have any segregating handles to differentiate the individual seats.

    Later, homeless people started sleeping in these seats.

    You know what happened soon later? They built the handle bars into the seats, thus making it impossible for anyone to lie on them.

    There were still homeless people seeking shelter later on at the rc corner, but they could only sleep sitting up.

    No homeless people? What kind of bs is that? In fact there are so much more homeless people now then before.

    No starving, destitute people? What about the case of the man who jumped onto the chinese garden mrt tracks and was cut into 3?? His wife didn’t have money to take bus to collect his body & the man gave all his remaining money to his 2 sons to buy chicken rice as a last gift to them..

    The government & town councils can afford to lose billions on their investment but not give just a little more to people in need or even just waived a bit more off conservation fees.

    It’s amazing how convoluted their thinking is..

  • kf

    I like a statistic published, and we can go into details later :
    mean and standard deviation of payment years of HDB housing over the years for at least the last 10-15 years

  • liesbuster

    Can we camp outside HDB office?

  • Daniel

    How can there be homeless Singaporeans ? Tell the police where they are, and MOVE ON law will make them disappear. Sleeping in public place ? How about Public Order Act that says that one is a assembly. See, the law think by genius clowns are so flexible and useful no wonder they are worth millions.

  • Commit a crime….

    Best way to get free accommodation in Singapore if you are down and out….just commit a crime and ask for the longest sentence possible from our Kangaroo courts.

  • 66%

    I tell you, in SIngapore people frustrated, dare not protest, people got no home, also dare not camp outside one. You see any tents or not?

    SIngapore is very peaceful one. Even if economy decline 20% also peaceful one. Not only peaceful but very normal also. Like the MRT is still packed, the restaurants still crowded, people even queue overnight for 99 yr 700K HDB flats (or pigeon holes).

    And of course the PAP will also have 50% walkovers, 66% mandate or even 100% seats at the next election. Don’t believe? Just wait and see!

  • Gilbert Goh

    I have always said that they are many homeless people in Singapore but they are all hidden.

    I once went to Changi AP in the middle of the night and at Terminal 2 viewing gallery i saw many men in middle age slept there.

    I just hope that they are not doing that permanently.

    Many men who are separated from their wives have no way to go but open spaces due to financial issue.

    It is also not cheap to rent a room nowadays. rental of around $400-500 is not uncommon.

    Hopefully, we can fidn a solution to this homeless problem.

  • liesbuster

    Who are these men at Changi AP? Locals or foreigners? Looks like what we need is more “Sleeping Corners”.

  • Rafiz Hapipi

    Very apt article. I guess, as a society (government and citizens included), we’re still in a denial of the social stratification that has taken roots as far back as in the 60s. The wide income gap, extreme inequality in distribution of wealth, joblessness and homelessness are clearly indicators of an underclass emerging from within. When this happens, the victims will be the youngest generation of the society.

    In an ageing population, it is absurd to think that we are willing to sacrifice the young. There is perhaps a need to revive the spirit of humanistic & democratic pluralism, citizenship and mutual growth in this society.

    We cannot remain arrogant and aloof to our neighbours, immediate and across our shores. Perhaps, we’re reaching closer to saturation point but across ASEAN, the potential for growth is only beginning. The gradual formation EU is perhaps a good starting point where we can draw lessons from.

  • jackKnife

    >Sleepless in Singapore

    all its trying to say is if ur not competitive as the FT, u can find urself a new home elsewhere in another country, nevermind u served NS or ur forefathers contributed to this nation

  • -ben

    ‘Actually, there is a significant number of homeless in Singapore. For example, not all the campers at East Coast Park are camping there by choice.


    11) Rafiz Good insights, but I doubt we will ever get there with this government in place. I had meant protest vote 3) Yes I’ve always felt why can’t Asian move in the direction of EU, Tan Kin Lian article on “negative traits” aptly reflects the reasons why.

  • mice is nice

    this reminds me that i saw a few men (no women yet) sleeping in the open when i went to a 24hr store to buy a snack bar less than a month ago….


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  • george

    Dear fellow Singaporean, if the government said there is no homeless, then there is no homeless. Maybe the people sleeping in the open just wanted a day away from home, maybe too drunk or tire to travel home. IF PAP said no homeless, surely Singaporean cannot question because PAP is the government.
    We are taught to respect our government and must not question our ministers or show disrespect by doubting their statements. They had already said there is No Homeless in Singapore. So there is No Homeless period. However we have many FT who are happy to take our jobs at half the pay. Singapore will become a province of China if we are not careful.

  • Tina88

    Oh dear.. this is really sad.. I do suggest that the government look into this homeless issue urgently and seriously. With FT’s from China, Philippines, India and elsewhere taking our jobs, it is no wonder that Singaporeans are unable to cope with bills – how can you pay bills, feed children and make the monthly HDB mortgage payments when you don’t have a job? What is this country coming to? Only for the rich? Sad, cruel, materialistic Singapore Inc.

  • Zpydr

    I’m homeless, can’t even afford a low-rent room, earned a moderate wage but not eligible for a second HDB loan, reasons – pay is too low.  Made my case to my MP, 4 times! yet still I’m not eligible, plead my case to CDC, deemed that my wage is too high? All i need was help since my own spending expenses, food and transportation is $50 a month, just need a food voucher if getting monetary help is not possible ..
    I had a decent job, a good wage for a person with no paper qualification, don’t get me wrong, I worked from the bottom & deserved my hardwork. Lavished myself, bought myself things that I never had coming from a low income family. I deserved that luxury! But things took a bad turn beyond my doing, lost my jobs stuck with credits I struggled with for the last 4 years! All these is in the present and I am still struggling and HOMELESS. We gives priorities to the needy, the poor but who gives notices to people like me? Selfishly I say, people like me needs help too, we too are helpless like the Priorities, we too need abit of help like the Priorities and we too need to be noticed! Not asking to be at the equal level like what Priorities needs, yes they deserved more but justification to our standing, at least hear us and treat us like humans too as like the Priorities. Help us cause we need help, food and homes too!

  • Jenny

    I have a friend who has three kids hubby is working parttime and they r in need of a shelter urgently.Heard ofnew Hope but its fully booked …is there any other shelters available for them dat anyone might be able to shed a light upon?cos her kids school in woodlands so better if anyting around there…anyone noes???

  • Tryber

    I n my family r also houseless we go hdb they tell us go open market then open market

  • lilybud

    There is a family sleeping at the void deck for days, who can we call?

  • Susan

    I have a Singaporean friend who is homeless & jobless. Who can he turn to ??
    Who can provide him a shelter & job. He is age between 40 to 50.

    Waiting for your reply urgently.

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