MSF reports 40% decrease in rough sleepers, but temporary shelter occupancy increases sixfold from 2019 to 2021

MSF reports 40% decrease in rough sleepers, but temporary shelter occupancy increases sixfold from 2019 to 2021

SINGAPORE— On Monday (24 Apr), the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) issued a statement, claiming 530 rough sleepers were found in the country as of 2022, a “significant decrease” from the 921 rough sleepers sighted in a previous single-night count in 2019.

The 2022 Street Count of Rough Sleepers report shows the result of MSF’s nationwide “single-night street count” of rough sleepers which was conducted on 11 November 2022.

“This means that for every 100,000 persons in Singapore, about nine are sleeping rough. ”

The report noted that in 2019 and 2021, the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) conducted cumulative counts over several months, which found 1,050 and 616 rough sleepers, respectively.

MSF said while much work remains to be done, the incidence of rough sleeping in the city state is lower than in global cities such as New York (40) and Hong Kong (21). 

Singapore’s mainstream media, The Straits Times, also reported the MSF’s finding, highlighting that there was over a 40% drop in rough sleepers last year.

MSF’s statement noted that among 530 rough sleepers, 57 participated in the survey.

Key challenges cited by these rough sleepers included difficulties in securing and maintaining stable housing, disagreements with family or cohabitants, and irregular income or debt.

“MSF will continue to work with the PEERS Network to support each rough sleeper, so that they can better address the challenges that might be impeding their ability to secure stable long-term housing.”

It is worth to note that in the report, MSF defines “homeless persons” as those who do not have access to adequate housing.

This includes persons who have no homes and are staying in temporary accommodation (e.g., shelters), or face difficulty in returning home and end up sleeping on the streets.

MSF regarded “rough sleepers” as persons sleeping in public spaces, regardless of their housing circumstances.

“Not all homeless persons may have slept rough, as they may have had alternative accommodation (e.g., shelters funded by MSF and community partners) while seeking long-term stable housing, ” the report said.

Occupancy in temporary shelters increased more than sixfold, from 65 to 420 in 2019-2021

However, Leong Sze Hian, a veteran blogger in Singapore, has called out that media reports do not provide statistics on whether the number of those in temporary shelters increased or decreased in 2022. This means that only half the story is being told.

Mr Leong cited a news report from Today, which mentioned a key finding from the LKYSPP in 2021 that occupancy in temporary shelters had increased more than sixfold, from 65 to 420.

“So, does the above mean that the total number of homeless persons increased by 50 (921 – 616 rough sleepers = 305 + homeless in temporary shelters 420 – 65 = 355)?” Mr Leong questioned.

When commenting on the MSF’s report in his Facebook post, Mr Leong said another way of looking at the statistics might be that whilst the number of rough sleepers decreased by 33.1% (616 divided by 921), the number in temporary shelters increased by 546.2% (420 divided by 65).

Mr Leong criticized the media headline for giving the impression that the number of homeless had decreased by 40 per cent when this only refers to rough sleepers.

The MSF’s report also did not provide the number of homeless people in shelters to show whether the number had increased or decreased.

“Why can’t we have the full story and the statistics on “homelessness” in S’pore?”


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