By Leong Sze Hian
Minister of Social and Famil Development, Chan Chun Sing said in Parliament on Thursday that every case of a down-and-out Singaporean that appears on social media or in the newspapers is followed up on by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
He however added that it is not appropriate for the government to reveal their private circumstances or the kind of help that they have been getting as the ministry is committed to protecting their privacy.
I would like to testify that to the best of my knowledge, practically every case that we wrote were contacted and assisted by the relevant agencies, even though their identities were not revealed in our stories.
Examples of the outcomes?
I would like to share to the best of my knowledge – the latest situation and outcomes of 2 cases as follows:-
Elsie (not her real name), age 48, received training and job assistance and is now working as a security guard. As her pay plus the room rental for 2 rooms of her HDB flat is barely enough to cover her family’s expenses and HDB mortgage payments (she has 2 children), she is still in arrears on her HDB mortgage. However, she has been allowed to continue to stay in her flat despite the HDB’s letter of compulsory acquisition to her in July 2013 when we wrote the story.
The Legal Aid Bureau has been extremely helpful in her divorce court order enforcement of the $300 maintenance monthly for 3 years from her ex-husband, a 50-year old permanent resident who abandoned her in 2007. (“HDB’s response to homeless story“, Mar 6, 2014)
(Note: As some of the stories have multi-part articles – I have referenced the latest one which should have links to the earlier articles.)
Rina (not her real name) is now living in a homeless shelter for women and children. She sold her HDB flat to pay for her disabled mother’s medical expenses and other debts. After she crossed the 30-month debarment period for flat sellers to apply for a new HDB flat, she was assisted to apply and has been alloted a 2-room BTO flat which is under construction. Her mother is currently in a nursing home. (“Daughter became homeless caring for disabled mother“, Sep 25, 2012)
Some other stories and related articles in my blog:
- “Housing woes of a single mother?“, Aug 2, 2012
- “Singaporean loses HDB flat, foreign wife runs away (Part 3)“, Jun 8, 2012
- “Homeless family lives in an office“, May 31, 2012
- “HDB: Why not so easy to downgrade“, Jun 28, 2011
- “Homeless and Abandoned with Four Children“, Jun 21, 2011
- “HDB downgrading and financial stress FAQ“, Jun 15, 2011
- “HDB: $431,000 CPF – But homeless soon?“, Jun 19, 2011
- “Divorced – and facing housing woes“, May 12, 2011
Those who genuinely want to help?
Mr Chan also asked his fellow MPs “not to judge” when stories of any of these families in trouble are highlighted in the media.
“Very often, there are very complicated stories behind each and every case. Very often the social workers and the community have been quietly working behind the scenes helping these families in need without fanfare,” said Mr Chan.
He added, “Those who genuinely want to help…we’ll be most happy to work with them. But for those with other reasons, it’s always difficult."
However I am rather puzzled as to what he means or is trying to say with this remark.
An example of a cardboard collector who wasn’t really needy?
The minister brought out the example of a woman who was featured in a news report.
"In 2009, there was a public uproar after a video posted online by news service Agence France Presse featured an elderly woman in Singapore who made a living by scavenging for scrap cardboard and selling it," Mr Chan said.
It was mentioned that checks by the government officials later revealed that she owned property, had savings and a family who wanted to help her – but she did not want to rely on them.
So when it was said that “she owned property”, does it mean she is staying in her own HDB flat or a private property?
What about the term “had savings”? Is it a few thousand dollars or more than $4,000?
What exactly does “had a family who wanted to help her – but she did not want to rely on them” mean?
From our experience in volunteering to do financial counselling for the last decade or so, we often come across cases whereby if a family member is asked by the authorities about their aged parent working for very low earnings, the answer may be, "We want to help, but my parent does not want our help."
But think about it. If you were the family member being asked by the authorities why your elderly parent is on the streets picking up cardboard, would you want to give an answer to say that you do not have the means or intention of taking care of your parent?
At the end of the day, the fact is that there are so many elderly Singaporeans eking out a living by earning less than $10 a day collecting scrap cardboard or used drink cans.
To all these needy elderly Singaporeans it may be quite meaningless to hear a reply in Parliament citing one example of a scrap cardboard collector who arguably don’t really need to make “a living by scavenging for scrap cardboard and selling it."