Homelessness is inevitable for some people, especially when they are unable to pay for rent and mortgage payments, they often resort to the streets as their final refuge.
In Singapore, between 921 and 1,050 people were classified as homeless and sleeping on the streets, according to a study by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) at the National University of Singapore on 11 November 2019.
Assoc Prof Ng highlighted that “homelessness illustrates the consequences when work does not bring about economic security, especially among older workers”, and thus making “a strong case” for “public provision to ensure income security in old age”.
Despite the findings, Assoc Prof Ng believed that there is a “scope to expand outreach services to connect homeless people to housing support” in Singapore.
Now with the current COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore and the Government imposed its “circuit breaker” measures to curb local transmission of the virus, the challenges faced by the homeless have only gotten more extreme as shelters for the homeless hit capacity.
The Straits Times reported on 13 April that the Transit Point @ Margaret Drive shelter has reached its full capacity prior to the safe distancing measures took effect on 7 April. The shelter was set up by the social service agency New Hope Community Services and currently accommodates 64 people in 15 rooms.
The shelter’s operations executive Lim Kim Tat told ST that since the measures kicked in, he received about 20 to 30 inquiries a day on the shelter’s vacancies but had to turn people away because it was full.
“Without safe distancing restrictions, the shelter can take in between 80 and 100 rough sleepers because we can put in double-decker beds,” Mr Lim noted.
According to the spokesman of Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), MSF has been working closely with community partners in the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (Peers) network to increase the bed spaces in their shelters and some even extended their operations 24/7 in order to ensure the homeless safety.
MSF also worked with the Housing Board and Catholic Welfare Services to provide temporary shelter for the homeless.
“We will continue to work alongside other government agencies, social service agencies and community partners in the Peers network to open up more spaces for the homeless over the next few weeks, while observing safe distancing measures and the necessary precautionary measures,” said MSF.
Besides, charity organisation Homeless Hearts of Singapore also launched an appeal titled “City of Refuge”, stating that homelessness issue was “more than a national problem” but also a “humanitarian crisis in the making”.
It appeals to businesses, religious organisations and individuals to help provide shelters for the homeless amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We really need you to open up your empty churches, empty mosques, empty temples, your empty cafes and empty shops, your empty schools, your empty offices, your empty lounges and your empty flats,” read the appeal.
It also stated that the charity organisation worked closely with MSF to vet and check each organisation and individual who offered their spaces to the homeless, adding that they will be guided with the necessary safety precautions.
Co-founder of the registered charity, Abraham Yeo told ST that the City of Refuge appeal was launched to call people to do their part and not “outsource everything to the Government”.
“This is our home. We shouldn’t need the Government to tell us to care for our neighbors,” he said.
In 2019, LKYSPP study revealed over 1,000 people classified as homeless, sleeping on streets in Singapore
Last year in November, Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) at the National University of Singapore revealed that between 921 and 1,050 people were classified as homeless and sleeping on the streets in Singapore.
About 500 volunteer fieldworkers, who are social workers recruited by the MSF were tasked to cover 12,000 blocks of flats and other public and commercial spaces for three months to count the numbers sleeping on the streets.
The fieldworkers recorded the number of people who were asleep, or were about to sleep, in public spaces after 11.30pm. This was gauged by observing whether the rough sleepers had some form of bedding or many belongings with them.
The study defined homelessness as the state of “living in inadequate housing situations”.
There were higher numbers of homelessness in larger and older housing estates, as well as estates with more rental flats, with public housing void decks being among the most common locations chosen by homeless people to sleep in.