Homelessness in Singapore
There are homeless people in every single country in the world, and Singapore is no exception. A study conducted in 2019 revealed that about 1,000 people out of the over 5.8 million people living in Singapore were homeless and sleeping on the streets. While there are a number of them who are in a more pressing state of neediness (hence their homelessness) there are several other factors and situations that account for people living and sleeping on Singapore’s streets.
Actually Singapore has always prided itself on a high rate of home ownership. According to official statistics, the city-state boasts some of the best figures in the world. 91 percent of the population own their own homes. However, this remarkable figure has often been tempered by the existence of homelessness. This falls under the same category as other issues like poverty and inequality.
Common Reasons for Homelessness in Singapore
Most homeless people in Singapore find themselves in a dead-end situation due to unfortunate reasons such as being medically unable to work and not having insurance to cover for that. Unfortunately, though this is the most prevalent reason, support schemes specific to the needs of such people have not been fully provided.
Another category of people that end up homeless are young people who are escaping difficult home environments. Some young people have to deal with, for instance, the following:
- alcoholic parents who have a fiery temper
- family who are unsupportive of their sexual orientation or partners
Since young people cannot buy an HDB flat on their own until they are 35, they are forced to leave their intolerable home environment even though they may have the savings to afford housing.
Some parents are rendered homeless when they are thrown out of their homes by their grown up kids. This is a rather unfortunate situation but the reality is that it does happen. It starts when parents sell their own homes, giving the entire proceeds to their kids, thinking that the children will then buy a bigger home to accommodate the whole family. In most cases, this works out well. However, compounding disagreements between the two parties, i.e. parents and their children’s new families could become explosive. In the worst cases, children kick their own parents out and since they handed all their money to these children, they are rendered homeless. What makes this situation more painful is that due to their old age, these elderly ones cannot work to pay for another home or acquire a loan. At the same time, some decline taking legal action against their children for fear of shame.
An unlikely group of people who end up homeless are on record as home owners, but cannot service their rental loans unless the entire flat is rented out. What this means is that in the months that they are unable to make enough income on their own, they have to rent out the whole unit to pay off their flat loans. Doing that implies that they would have no place to stay if no family member or friend has available space.
Tenants are at risk of being rendered homeless when they are kicked out by their landlords for good and flimsy reasons combined. In such situations, individuals have a hard time finding an affordable rental unit since it generally takes a while to do so in Singapore. For people who are not in good standing financially, it may take even longer finding a place to stay.
People who may have gone through a messy divorce may also end up being homeless under certain circumstances. Flats could end up being liquidated when a divorce occurs. Problems arise therefore when one party gets all of its proceeds while the former spouse is left with absolutely nothing. Another instance is when the divorcee cannot afford to pay for the flat on their individual income. It gets even sadder for people who get divorced before they turn 35. If a person got divorced at age 30, they may have to struggle for another 5 years with accommodation since one cannot purchase a flat of their own until age 35, according to the singles scheme. For such individuals who cannot stay with their parents, siblings or friends, the next option is to probably live on the streets. Matters are even worse for people who were living as home makers with no savings or income to their name.
What is done to help the Homeless in Singapore?
Government agencies, community partners as well as the Ministry for Social and Family Development work hand in hand in addressing the problem of homelessness in Singapore. One of the most effective ways is to provide the necessary support to ensure that people have access and remain in their HDB housing. Shelters are also made available to help individuals and families who have been rendered homeless to transition into regaining stability and a long-term housing plan. The burden of caring for the homeless is not only carried on the shoulders of the government; members of the general public who encounter homeless people are also encouraged to offer help as much as they are capable of. They are also advised to call or reach out to the nearest Family Service Centre or Social Service Office for assistance.
How is the government of Singapore helping the Homeless?
In recent times, these issues have been the central focus of the Singapore government. The government has made attempts to share the wealth and prosperity the country has enjoyed. Policies aimed at increasing wages have been implemented in order to achieve this. Taxes have also been slightly raised on top income earners in order to ease the burden on lower income groups. These have seen a marked improvement in Singapore’s Gini coefficient. It was reduced from 0.4 in 2010 to 0.38 in 2019. More improvements continue to be made in order for the government to realize its goal of reducing inequality.
The Ministry for Social and Family Development aids homeless people, particularly those with low-income to apply for the Housing Development Board (HDB) public rental housing. Those who simply cannot afford renting a flat are also provided with assistance for Interim Rental Housing. The Singaporean government has also made provision for people who need social intervention to be placed in MSF-Funded transitional shelters, whereas those who have no way to support themselves are admitted into welfare homes.
Aside from the temporary accommodation provided for such people, the government, through social workers, helps homeless people who have been admitted into shelters to find employment, deal with their personal family and financial issues and possibly help them secure better housing arrangements. Those who find themselves in welfare homes are provided with rehabilitation programs and counseling to enhance their emotional and physical wellbeing.
The aforementioned government ministry also works in collaboration with NGOS, the local community, researchers, and volunteers, to tackle homelessness. Social services are geared towards helping those who do not have homes. Shelters such as SafeSoundSleepingPlaces offer overnight accommodation for homeless people.
Agencies also run programs that provide temporary housing. This is complemented by social work and additional help in the way of healthcare services. These measures are absolutely vital to the government’s efforts to eliminate homelessness in Singapore. They are geared towards ensuring that homeless people gain access to cheap housing alternatives. As things stand, such efforts continue to be made in order to change the general situation.
Homelessness has often been a contradiction in itself. A nation as rich as Singapore should not have to deal with inherent disparities. However, the government’s determination to resolve this issue is commendable. It speaks of a greater sense of responsibility to the less fortunate in Singapore society.