Support Site for The Unemployed & Underemployed
Monday January 14th 2019

Homeless poor have little chance of breaking out in Singapore

We completed our fifth homeless distribution last night and fortunately there is a big group of nine doing the round of giving out blanket, packed food, biscuit and mineral water. A family alone provided six members and for that we are thankful.

The recent cold windy weather worries us alot and the least we can do for our homeless Singaporeans is to hand them a blanket and show some kind gesture to assure them that they are not forgotten.

It is a difficult project as it involves alot of walking in the middle of the night sometimes in sensitive area whereby drug usage is being associated. We applaud those who took the time and guts to brave the elements and many I know wanted to do something to alleviate the suffering of fellow Singaporeans.

Some bring their kids along to expose them to the harsher truth of life whereby the homeless community is often hidden from the public eye and I thought that is very noble of them as our kids here tend to be rather pampered and spoilt.

After bumping into at least 50 of them, my conclusion is that the homeless poor has a hard time breaking out of the poverty cycle. Many are elderly men above 60 years old with the rare few hovering in their mid 50s. Women form the minority group and its a good thing that we don’t see any homeless kids around in our charity project so far.

I am sure that not many have proper access to retirement nest viz-a-viz CPF funds whereas others are caught by a failed marriage or financial reason. Some could even be ex-prisoners who have nowhere to go after their release and they have no choice but to sleep in the street until things turn around with a proper job.

At least half say they are working usually as a cleaner or other odd job but this can’t be verified. Their income varies from $800 to $1400 with CPF contribution.

Many could not get a rental flat due to the fact that they have enough CPF funds to purchase a BTO flat but the reason that they didn’t do so is unclear.We thought that at least half of them, especially those in their 70s – 80s will easily qualify for a rental flat due to their abject condition.

Some were however kicked out of their rental flat also to conflict with their flat mate or other personal reason. One 84-year-old Malay man we saw was kicked out of his rental flat he shared with another man who brought in his girlfriend to stay with him.

The Malay community has a strong homeless representation over the Indian or Chinese though I believe the area we usually frequent – Beach Road/Lavender has many Malays.

Many also say that they were married before with grown-up children so there is some issue with the family ties and bonding that spill over to the housing part. A few confided that they are divorced and after selling their matrimonial home they became homeless after shifting around for a while. A lack of employment opportunities complicate the matter more and many live in the open for more than three years with some over 5 years.

The longest period we ever heard is a elderly man who sleeps outside for 6 to 7 years.

I can empathsize with this group of men as after my divorce I bumped around renting room to room until a church friend asks me to live with him for at least three years before I move out on my own.

I am neither too poor to qualify for a HDB rental flat nor too well-off to purchase my own flat so I am caught in a limbo.  Renting a room is the only option but once unemployment hits the danger of homelessness is always there.

Many of the elderly homeless poor are reluctant to enrol for the shelter homes due to its restrictive regime which curtail much of the personal freedom that many do not want to sacrifice. Moreover, if they work, they prefer to be able to move freely so they can be on time for their job. A shelter with its restriction timing of when to return and leave the institution will be like a prison to some. However, women with young kids will likely prefer a proper shelter so that at least they have a roof over their head and they don’t have to worry about security issues like when they are in the open.

Its a Catch-22 situation really as there are proper homeless shelter facilities available here but not those that our homeless poor desire. Perhaps, there could be a hybrid shelter version like those in the US whereby people can go there for a bath, hot meal and a good night sleep before they are on their way out the next day. If they want to do so the next day, they have to queue up again.

New Hope Community Services  – a respectable government-funded community outreach for the homeless has a long queue for their shelter facilities and is one of the bigger charity arm for those who are seeking temporary shelter. The waiting period can be between 3 to 6 months and referral has to be made via a social worker from the family service centre. It houses the homeless in HDB-style blocks and often you have to share the flat with another family or person. Jobs are also available and you feel obliged to work so that you can stay in the shelter until something better comes along.

The good thing we realised from distributing goodies to the homeless community is that food is readily available from void-deck charity centres or temples spread around Singapore. A small group of three homeless people we visited yesterday told us that a resident bought packets of rice for them and it seems to be a frequent goodwill gesture.

They hung out together at a sheltered veranda more for company than anything else and even strewn their washed clothes round the border for them to dry. A nearby bin centre allows them to bathe and wash their laundry conveniently.

Except for the occasional rant about the cost of living here they seem contented and resigned to their fate.

There is also the occasional police check and they seem to by-pass that though we have heard of stories of some homeless folks who were arrested for vagabonding which is a crime here. Some are kept in IMH whereas others were sent to the homeless shelters.

Many homeless folks tend to group together or at least pair up for security reason as they lamented to us that theft is rampant especially when they are sound asleep in the middle of the night. The worse case scenario is when you are being assaulted by someone who is drunk or not of sound mind for sleeping in the open. Of course, mosquito bites and the rain are factors which the homeless have to embrace as their sleeping nature.

After five rounds of distribution to the homeless, my personal finding is that the future seems bleak for them as our housing flat is priced beyond their ability to afford one.The cheaper elderly version model is still priced at around $80,000 to $100,000 depending on the location and size. The tenure is only 40 years and you have to pay up the cost of the house without any loan though CPF Board allows one to use up to $80,000 of their CPF for such a purchase. My belief is that the homeless folks will not have that much CPF to purchase a elderly flat or else they won’t be homeless in the first place.

The only other viable option is to rent a room at market value of between $400 – $600 a month – something which many of them find unachieveable also. Most of them work as cleaner and with a take-home pay of between $800 to $1000 it is difficult to part away $500 for a room leaving only a couple hundred dollars for personal spending.

The other more viable option is to seek out the heavily-subsidised rental flat from HDB though getting a person to co-rent the flat could prove tricky. Many people are unable to find someone to co-rent the flat though they qualify for one. The rent of a HDB subsidised flat could be as low as $50 depending on one’s income.

HDB can come in here to arbitrate heavily so that the homeless have a chance to seek a proper respectable shelter for themselves. They can help to part up two elderly homeless men together rather than leaving it to chance.

Its heard-rending to see old elderly men in their 70s and 80s sleeping out in the open especially in the wet cold months of November and December. They have to spend their remaining golden years homeless and isolated and the least we can do for them is to help them get a proper shelter of their own.

Many could not even ekk out a smile when we speak with them and their faces are creased with lines of loneliness and shame. To sleep in the open without a home is the lowest form of human indignity and when you are old and feeble it hurts much more.

In a developed prosperous country like ours its a plain shame to see so many homeless people as surely we have the resources to do more for this vulnerable group.

Written by: Gilbert Goh

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2 Responses to “Homeless poor have little chance of breaking out in Singapore”

  1. Pat says:

    Thank you for your initiative.

    I was homeless and slept over at the airport for 2 months. It was a wretched existence. I returned from ten years overseas with less than S$100 on me, I’m not bullshitting. Slept on my brother’s sofa for a couple of months in his tiny one room flat. He is married so obviously it was not long term for me to be staying at his pleasure. All those so-called social safety nets — they are all bull shit. I know first hand.

    • Jie Ming says:

      Hi Pat,

      I am curious when I read your letter. You mentioned having only $100 when you returned from 10 years working overseas. I am sure one would have more than $100 in saving up in working overseas. According to your small amount it seemed like you have wasted 10 years of working overseas. Even those foreigners working in Singapore in construction labors with low salaries are still above to save.

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