Without a home to live in, more Singapore families getting help — Neo Chai Chin
AUG 23 — They are mainly households with four or more members, with weak social support and a combined monthly income of S$1,500 (RM3,750) or less. Some have sold their flats to resolve their financial problems and cannot afford to buy or rent another place in the short term.
The number of homeless families assisted by the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) has nearly doubled in the last three years. There were 72 cases in 2009, 128 in 2010, and 141 last year — the result, possibly, of expanded capacity at transitional shelters and greater awareness of relevant community services, said the ministry.
These cases were referred to the shelters by family service centres, community development councils (CDCs), hospitals, MCYS and other public agencies.
In total, 341 homeless families have received help in the past three years, Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing revealed in a written Parliamentary reply last week to Nominated MP Laurence Lien.
In response to Today’s queries, an MCYS spokesperson said yesterday that there are currently three shelters — the Lakeside FiT shelter, Wahah shelter and New Hope Community Services’ shelter for displaced families — with a total capacity for 161 families. Two of these shelters started operations in 2010.
The shelters — which provide temporary housing for homeless families — work with family service centres and CDCs to help them to move towards “more permanent and sustainable housing solutions and self-reliance”, said the spokesperson.
When contacted, the shelter operators referred most of this newspaper’s queries to MCYS.
While the number of homeless families assisted by MCYS has gone up, MPs and social workers Today spoke to said they have not noticed an increase in the number of cases they encounter.
Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah said one-third of her cases at each Meet-the-People Session are housing-related, consisting of residents facing problems with loans or buying or selling their homes, or those seeking rental flats. But the latter consists mainly of elderly individuals whose relationships with their family may be strained, or whose families cannot accommodate them. The HDB has been “quite sympathetic” to families, especially those with young children or the elderly, said Lee.
Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng said he has encountered about five cases of homelessness over the past year. The bulk are due to strained family ties — with a minority consisting of a Singaporean with a foreign spouse unable to secure a place to live, for instance, he said.
“Family relationships are being strained for various reasons”, and he urged more forgiveness and accommodation of one another.
Social worker Mohamed Fareez said he has encountered fewer homeless cases in the past year, and cited the Interim Rental Housing scheme and increased capacity at transitional shelters as possible factors behind the decrease. “These have supported displaced families,” said Fareez, deputy head of the Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centres (Cheng San branch).
Fareez noted that the MCYS has been “proactive” in seeking out families in trouble, and that the National Council of Social Service has spearheaded regular networking sessions between FSCs and the HDB. He suggested that banks could be included in such sessions, given how some displaced families are those with housing bank loans that they are unable to service.
As for homeless individuals, 820 have been helped by the MCYS in the last three years — rising from 217 in 2009 to 339 in 2010, before decreasing to 264 last year. The majority are men in their 50s with secondary education or lower. New Hope runs a transitional shelter for individuals; the destitute are admitted to welfare homes that provide basic accommodation. The MCYS spokesperson urged families and individuals with housing, financial and family issues to seek help early and not wait until “they are in dire straits”. — Today
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