New Hope Community Services on giving the homeless a home.
We hardly hear of homelessness in Singapore. But according to Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy:
“You will see it if you look.”
While largely hidden, homelessness is a problem, but to what extent?
According to the study aimed at measuring the scale of homelessness, an estimated 1000 people are living on the streets of Singapore.
Despite being a wealthy country, there are some people who would inadvertently fall through the cracks of society. Behind the beautiful skyline lies the brutal reality for some unfortunate souls. We spoke to the Director of Social Work of New Hope Community Services, Lilian, to share a little more on homelessness in Singapore.
Reasons why people end up homeless:
1. Poverty and insecure work
Many hold irregular work and have low wages. “For homeless people, basic needs are so important, they can’t wait till the end, hand to mouth situation,” says Lilian. Low wages tend to mean working at odd hours and many end up sleeping near their workplace to reduce transportation costs.
2. Loss of social resources or Breakdown of familial support
Based on the study, 40% of the interviewees had properties under their names. These properties are usually public rental housing, purchased flats or occupiers of a family unit. However, due to familial strife, they are no longer able to live in their homes. Most of which are divorced men over 40.
3. Challenges in rental housing
The public rental units tend to be small and require 2 individuals to share the unit. Usually, they do not know each other very well before forming a dyad to rent the unit together. There is a lack of privacy, no partition, just shared common space. Homeless individuals often encounter difficulties in safeguarding their important documents. It is a tedious process to retrieve their important documents to apply for the rental flat.
With homelessness in Singapore being a multi-faceted issue, what are some things being done to alleviate some of the stresses the homeless face?
Religious groups and Community Services such as New Hope that provide temporary housing to the homeless.
“Many religious establishments such as mosques have opened up to let the homeless rest for a night.”
New Hope Community Services launched the shelter for displaced families in 2007. Their mission is to fill in the gap and provide a shelter of hope to these homeless Singaporeans and to empower, alleviate and improve their situation.
To date, they have provided temporary shelters for more than 900 cases in both family and individuals, who may otherwise have resorted to living on the streets, parks, car-parks, void-decks or beaches.
On top of providing shelters, New Hope Community Services has hosted other activities to help residents re-invent and improve themselves.
The founder of the New Hope, Pastor Andrew Khoo has said that New Hope aims to encourage more volunteers to come forward to befriend and be a mentor to them.
“More than providing them with shelter, we need to help them gain independence”, said Lilian. New Hope Community Services runs programmes such as job coaching and lifeskills training to support homeless families or individuals.
With establishments like New Hope working to help displaced individuals, we cannot help but wonder, how did Covid-19 affect their initiatives?
“I think one way to think about it, is to ask ourselves where do the homeless go during the Circuit Breaker period? We often see people loitering at coffee shops and at void decks, but during the Circuit Breaker, it becomes difficult for them to find a place to rest in the community.”
“In order to comply with safe distancing measures, the team had to quickly brainstorm and strategize how to implement it.” Lilian added.
“There was a lot of coordination involved-changing beds from double-deck to single beds, getting thermometers, hand sanitizers, masks for all the residents. Additionally, we had to educate the residents on the rationale behind safe distancing measures, it was quite the challenge.”
“During the start of Circuit Breaker, some agencies go along with safe distancing ambassadors to advise the public about safe distancing measures. If there are any homeless individuals, they will refer them to the Family Service Centre and eventually arrange for them to have a place to stay.”
Many of the residents still have jobs, so staying-in is not an option for them. Additionally, many of them work in high-risk vocations that require them to inadvertently come in contact with many people. It seems like New Hope Community Services has done their part to house as many people as they can, but with the recent outbreak of COVID19, volunteer opportunities were limited to the essential services.
So, how can we as a community help?
“One of the ways we can help is by showing support”
New Hope has started a campaign known as “Build A Home”. The Build A Home campaign aims to reach out to the community, in the hopes of garnering more awareness to the homeless in Singapore.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how you can take part in this cause:
Through this activity, you will experience the harsh reality of what many rough sleepers in Singapore had been facing. You’ll have a glimpse of what is like to call pieces of cardboard, cold tiles, park benches home for years.
Take part in #buildahomenhcs campaign to help the displaced individuals & families by creating a cardboard house as well as consider making a donation to NHCS to support their work.
According to Lilian, this campaign has received a fair bit of support for the community. For us, cardboard boxes are easily recycled or tossed out, but for the displaced, they are used as makeshift beds. Using cardboard is symbolic of their resilience and strength. Through this campaign, it reminds us to have a little more compassion for the less fortunate.
“It is important that we respect and honour their dignity when we approach this situation.”
Even when it comes to donating items, we have to build a relationship, finding out what they need and want, before we assume that what we donate is something they want.
“There is power in being the giver and recipient, that they are still important, subtle power dynamics”.
At the end of the day, it is good to remember that homelessness is not a comfortable change for anyone.
We believe that every one of our friends yearns for a roof over their head, regardless of their past. A home can grant them the stability to start afresh.
To find out how you can be a part of this initiative, check out their website here.
Written By Natalie
Natalie is a content writer that enjoys sunsets and movies. She loves having deep conversations about the world and dreams about being a rockstar. Connect with her on Instagram : @quackitsdonald