Where the displaced (homeless) see refuge

I refer to the article “Where the displaced seek refuge” (2 full pages about the homeless – Sunday Times, Feb 5).

More homeless being seen in the open, then hidden like in the past?

It states that “It used to be that vagrants would remain, unseen and unheard, at the margins of society. They bedded down in tents on the beach or slept on cardboard in the dark corners of staircase landings and void decks.

But a growing number is moving, literally from the dark to brightly lit and safer urban areas, say charity or volunteer groups that reach out to those who sleep outdoors, as more built-up spaces emerge and businesses operate round the clock.

Many are drawn, for instance, to eateries and supermarkets that are open 24/7, spending days and nights in the vicinity of the air-conditioned respite they offer.

Homeless for 7 years?

Mr Iwan, 69, who declined to give his full name, spends his nights at such a location in Toa Payoh, lying down on a row of chairs borrowed from a nearby coffee shop.

He moved there after five years of sleeping in void decks in Ang Mo Kio, and two years in a tent in Changi before that, he said.

“It’s cleaner here. The coffee shop uncle nearby is nice and doesn’t complain about us,” he said.

The term “homeless” generally refers to those who do not have permanent accommodation or are unable to use their registered address for various reasons.

“Number has not gone up in Singapore, it has not receded either”

Though their number has not gone up in Singapore, it has not receded either. From 2005 to 2015, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) gave support and shelter to an average of 300 individuals or families each year, similar to between 2013 and 2016, when 719 individuals and 467 families were given help.

It seems that the displaced will always form a part of society, and it is not hard to see why they gravitate towards places where there are more people.

Ms Fion Phua, whose group, Keeping Hope Alive, works with the elderly and homeless, said: “Some of them stay near brightly lit places to guard against theft or where there are toilets they can use.

“Those with illnesses may want to be around people so if anything happens, they are not alone.”

The new homeless?

Mr Abraham Yeo, of volunteer group Homeless Hearts of Singapore, said some may also wish to mask their homeless state.

“We are seeing more younger people, those in their 50s instead of their 60s and 70s, camping at Starbucks, McDonald’s, Internet and gaming cafes, libraries and other urban spaces, as these are places where people hang out and it is not immediately obvious that they are homeless,” he added.”

“Fewer homeless families now: MSF”?

I would also like to refer to the article “Fewer homeless families now: MSF” (Sunday Times, Feb 5).

Fewer homeless picked up?

As to “Fewer homeless families are being picked up by the authoritiesLast year, 93 families were admitted to shelters, compared with 144 in 2013.

In contrast, 71 homeless individuals moved into transitional shelters, compared with 49 in 2013.

Another 105 were sent to welfare homes last year.

Fewer homeless or harder to catch them?

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said there are fewer homeless families now, as efforts have been made in recent years to ensure those in financial and housing difficulties are referred early to family service centres (FSCs) for help” – it my not mean that there my be less homeless people. It may just mean that it may be harder for the authorities to catch them now.

Otherwise, how do you think the Sunday Times’ reporters were able to find so many homeless people to do such an extensive two full pages’ report?

This may be underscored by the remarks “Mr Lance Ambrosio, who works at Bakery and Bar St Marc at Parkland Green in East Coast Park, said: “Sometimes, we give them leftover bread.” There used to be more than 10 people who would sleep near the restaurant at night, but the number has dwindled to two or three, possibly because the authorities have been patrolling the area, he noted”.

And also the remarks “Other reasons could be to evade the authorities, who look for them in the usual places to assess their situation.

Dr Neo Yu Wei, research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Social Service Research Centre, said: “This will drive the homeless to seek other new places.””


Leong Sze Hian

A.S.S. Contributor

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