This is Home truly, where I know I must be,
Where my dreams wait for me, where the river always flows.
– Home (Lyrics by Dick Lee)
Singapore will always be Home truly. But how much do you know about the homeless in our Home? Thanks to questions filed in Parliament by MP for Aljunied GRC Mr Muhamad Faisal bin Abdul Manap from 2014 to 2016, we know a little more about the troubles faced by homeless Singaporeans. But, are current Government measures sufficient?
We spoke to Faisal to find out more.
Assistance should be rendered to all who are homeless – individuals as well as families. A roof over the head is a basic human necessity.
Do you think that the current interim measures in place, such as transition shelters and Interim-Rental Housing, are sufficient in supporting the homeless?
Faisal: According to statistics from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), there is an average of 300 cases of homelessness which the ministry has managed to identify annually. This only consists of cases identified by MSF. I believe there are many more such cases. The transition shelters and Interim Rental Housing available, as I understand, are very limited and would not be able to fully support the homeless.
In your Parliamentary Questions to MSF, the focus is on homelessness faced by families. What is your stand on the issue of homelessness for individuals who have no family?
Faisal: Assistance should be rendered to all who are homeless – individuals as well as families. A roof over the head is a basic human necessity. Nonetheless, we do have to acknowledge that there are limited sheltered facilities available. Hence, prioritisation should be on a case-by-case basis depending on the severity of the situation.
Other than the 30-month debarment period for renting a HDB flat after the sale of a HDB flat, what other measures do you think HDB should also undertake?
Faisal: I seriously think that HDB could be more proactive and thorough in their assessment of families which display a potential high risk of ending up homeless. Through such an approach, identified potential cases of homelessness should be referred to social agencies or Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) for further assessment.
If found to potentially be at a high risk of being homeless, the affected family or individual should be given special consideration for the Interim Rental Housing or be referred to the transitional shelters. I believe HDB’s current efforts in this area should be tightened.
Individuals and families often approach many agencies for help in getting a flat (e.g.: Social Service Offices, Family Service Centres, Meet-the-People Sessions, etc). Do you think these agencies have collaborated closely enough at the ground level to support families in their housing issues?
Faisal: The collaboration process needs to be strengthened. I have come across many cases where individuals and families have been asked by HDB to see their MP to assist in appealing for a rental unit. Some of these cases are also known to the FSCs’ Social Workers. In spite of the support of a MP’s letter and social reports produced by the Social Workers, there are still many unsuccessful cases and some ended up being homeless.
At the Ministry level, HDB being under the Ministry of National Development (MND) and the SSOs/Destitute Branch being under MSF, how do you think these agencies should work together on the issues of homelessness?
Faisal: Improved communication between these agencies is vital. HDB and SSO/Destitute Branch should look into sharing a common database of those cases identified as high-risk. Officers in these agencies should be trained in identifying potential homeless cases during preliminary assessments.
Apart from the existing Destitute Persons Act, do you think there are other ways to help the homeless through new legislation?
Faisal: The issue of homelessness is a complex and multi-faceted one. It will require a multi-pronged approach to better manage the situation. For a start, I strongly believe that the number of homeless cases can be further reduced significantly through the enhancement of some of the HDB’s housing policies, which to some extent inadvertently contribute to the risk of this group of vulnerable people ending up homeless.
For example, at my Meet-the-People Session, I met a family of six who became homeless partly due to HDB’s 30-month debarment policy. Mr A, an owner of a 3-room HDB flat, is his family’s sole breadwinner who earns about $1500 a month. He has a wife and four young children to support. He was advised by HDB to sell his house to clear his housing arrears. After he sold his flat and cleared his arrears, he applied for a rental flat under the HDB’s Public Rental Scheme but was rejected due to the 30-month debarment policy.
Mr A had no choice but to rent a flat through the open market. After a while, he exhausted his savings and could no longer pay the monthly rent. As a result, he and his family had to camp by the beach. Fortunately for him, an NParks officer referred his case to the relevant agency and after a while, the family was located in a temporary shelter. According to Mr A, six months after residing in the shelter, his family was granted the flat he currently stays in.
To me, such situations of homelessness can be prevented, should the HDB take a more proactive approach and conduct a thorough risk assessment on people like Mr A, when they first approach the agency.
Written by WP Newsdesk volunteers ~
… I strongly believe that the number of homeless cases can be further reduced significantly through the enhancement of some of the HDB’s housing policies…