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The homeless suffer from mental illness?

Ravi Philemon

According to reliable sources, Ms Penny Low (Member of Parliament for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), allegedly commented that the people who are homeless in Singapore are so because of mental illness, or because they choose to be so.

Did she really make such a comment? If she did, what were her reasons for arriving at such a conclusion? If she did not make that statement, what was her position on the people who are homeless in Singapore?  We asked Ms Low these questions in an email enquiry, to which she chose not to reply.

Pastor Andrew Khoo, the Executive Director of New Hope Community Services (NHCS), in response to The Online Citizen’s query, said that its Shelter for Men-in-Crisis do receive referrals from IMH, but the referrals were the “mild cases” who need a second chance at living independently.  NHCS's website states that their shelters will not accept referrals who are suffering “from serious psychiatric disorders and/or serious behavioural problems that require close individual supervision or nursing care”.

Dr Muni Winslow a psychiatrist and Executive Director of Promises (a mental health and addictions consulting and training company) responded to our queries, questioned if people who are homeless do indeed suffer from mental illness. He says that homelessness does correlate to mental illness, but that people do also become homeless “if they fall into bad times, loose their job or go to a casino and loose all their money.”

Dr Winslow acknowledges that it is possible for people to pretend to be mentally ill but that “there are ways to pick up people who are faking.”

In July this year when speaking about a Bill introduced in Parliament to prevent licensed moneylenders from laying first claim to the proceeds of HDB flat sales, Jurong GRC MP Halimah Yacob said, “When people sell the flats, they get nothing and still have to pay high interest on their loans. Some even become homeless.” This clearly implies that people do become homeless for various other reasons besides being mentally ill, and mainly because of financial hardships.

And some of these people who are homeless suffer from chronic (not transitional) homelessness  because of certain govenment policies. See here.

When asked for her view on the alleged comment of Ms Low, Esther (not her real name) who is homeless says, “That means that everyone in my family including my 3-year old son and 8-year old daughter is mad, or we are pretending to be mad.”

It is important for legislators like Ms Low to be properly informed about issues like homelessness and not hold on to preconceived biases and/or prejudices (if she did make such a statement) so that they will not unfairly discriminate between their constituents - so that legislators like her can initiate and support appropriate policies which will benefit the disadvantaged and the needy.