What’s the Government doing about the latest homelessness study of 1000 persons?

Parliamentary question, 6 Jan 2020


Ms. Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Social and Family Development: (a) in light of first-ever nationwide count of homelessness that showed 1000 street homeless persons, how will this change and/or update the Ministry’s approach and plans to eradicate homelessness, besides PEERs (Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers) and S3Ps (SafeSoundSleeping Places); (b) what urgent measures will be put in place to support food/nutritional and medical needs of homeless persons given the survey results; (d) will the Ministry consider lowering the entry requirement for overnight shelters and extending duration of stay; and (e) is there research/data to support the retention of joint tenancy for public housing and the current Destitute Persons Act to tackle homelessness?

Mr Desmond Lee: Dr Lee Bee Wah and Ms Anthea Ong have also filed questions on addressing homelessness for the next sitting. I will address them together with this reply.

MSF considers a person to be homeless if he does not have access to housing. This includes people who have no home. It also includes rough sleepers who have homes but face difficulty returning for various reasons such as serious hoarding, or conflict with family members or co-tenants. We seek to assist all homeless people and rough sleepers in need of help, to ensure their safety and well-being.

Homeless people often grapple with multiple complex issues that require government and community support. However, some of them may not know where to seek assistance; while others may decline help or avoid contact with social services and government agencies. Therefore, MSF adopts a community-based social work approach to assisting the homeless. Since late 2017, MSF has been partnering various community groups1 and government agencies in regular night walks so as to better reach out to and engage homeless people and rough sleepers, and share with them that there are shelters and services available. We would refer them to appropriate help agencies that can work with them on their immediate needs as well as underlying issues, so as to improve their circumstances. This collaboration led to the formal launch of the PEERS Network, which stands for Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers Network, in July 2019.

Partners in the PEERS Network refer homeless people that they have reached out to and befriended to help agencies and shelters to help them attain stable housing and address other longer-term issues such as employment and family conflicts. MSF funds Social Service Agencies to provide shelter and social support at Transitional Shelters2 to homeless persons who require social work intervention to address their underlying issues. Social workers at the Transitional Shelters work with residents on their financial, employment, health and family issues, and help them to secure long-term stable housing.

We aim to help residents at Transitional Shelters move into stable long-term accommodation within six months. An extension of stay can be granted if social workers assess that the residents need more time to work on their issues.

I would like to thank all our partners for working closely with us to provide better support for the homeless.

A small proportion of rough sleepers encountered by MSF have no family support and are unable to care for themselves, and may be considered to be destitute. We offer them care and rehabilitation at Welfare Homes, with the aim of reintegrating them back into the community. Statutory powers under the Destitute Persons Act are exercised only as the last resort in instances where the individual’s safety has been assessed to be at risk, or the individual lacks mental capacity to make informed decisions for his welfare.

MSF has also collaborated with our PEERS partners to set up “Safe Sound Sleeping Places”, or S3Ps, to provide rough sleepers a safe environment to rest for the night. S3Ps are ground-up initiatives set up with the goodwill of our community partners. They are sited in the premises of our community partners, which are located near to where the homeless persons sleep rough. To ensure the safety of others resting at the S3Ps, our community partners generally require rough sleepers to meet some basic conditions, such as refraining from consuming alcohol. Rough sleepers can stay at S3Ps until their issues have been resolved, they have been referred to Transitional Shelters, or they have secured longer-term housing options. S3Ps complement existing shelter and residential options, making it easier for government and social service agencies to engage homeless people and rough sleepers in a timely manner.

There are currently seven S3Ps with space for up to 56 individuals, with two more S3Ps in the pipeline. About 1 in 5 of all rough sleepers whom we reach out to on joint night walks with PEERS partners have accepted shelter at S3Ps. For the others who decline shelter, MSF and our partners continue to engage them, to persuade them to take up shelter.

MSF has also strengthened coordination between government agencies to ensure that all rough sleepers whom we encounter are offered assistance. An inter-agency taskforce, consisting of 11 government agencies3 , was set up in May 2018. It reviews policies, programmes and protocols to address issues faced by homeless persons and rough sleepers. It also looks into upstream measures to prevent those at risk of losing their homes from becoming homeless. The taskforce builds on MSF’s ongoing work to strengthen social service delivery, as well as the work of an earlier taskforce which had been set up in 2007 to strengthen inter-agency coordination on rough sleeping issues.

Ms Anthea Ong asked about the joint tenancy requirement for HDB’s public rental housing. Minister Lawrence Wong will address this in his reply to Associate Professor Daniel Goh’s other PQ on this same issue. [See below]

Our strong partnership with the PEERS network partners has enabled us to reach out to more homeless persons and rough sleepers in need, and to offer our support. MSF will continue to bring together more community partners into the PEERS Network, and support those who are willing to open up their premises as S3Ps for homeless people and rough sleepers.

If members of the public encounter any homeless individuals, they can play a part by calling the ComCare hotline at 1800 222 0000, or refer them to the nearest Social Service Office or Family Service Centre for assistance.

Note(s) to Question No(s) 23:

[1]MSF has participated in joint night walks with eight community partners. These partners are: Homeless Hearts of Singapore, Catholic Welfare Services. Paya Lebar Methodist Church, Trolley Ministry (Youth with a Mission), Mummy Yummy, St Andrew’s Cathedral, Presbyterian Community Services, and Pasir Ris FSC.

[2]There are three MSF-funded Transitional Shelters run by appointed SSAs: New Hope Shelter for Displaced Families and Individuals, Transition Plus @ Jalan Bukit Merah, and AWWA Transitional Shelter. Only New Hope’s Transitional Shelter takes in both individuals and families, while the other two takes in families only. The three shelters have a combined capacity of 150 families and 84 individuals. As of end-Nov 2019, there were 62 families (41% out of the total capacity of 150 families) and 67 individuals (80% out of the total capacity of 84 individuals) in the Transitional Shelters.

[3]The 11 agencies represented on the taskforce are: MSF, MHA, SPF, ICA, MOM, MND, HDB, NEA, NParks, SLA and AIC.

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24 Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong asked the Minister for National Development whether the rationale requiring co-tenancy for public rental flats is still relevant today in light of its contribution to homelessness.

Mr Lawrence Wong: HDB requires two singles to share a rental flat under the Joint Singles Scheme (JSS) to ensure prudent use of our limited land and fiscal resources. This allows our rental flats to serve more low-income Singaporeans who require housing assistance.

There are multiple complex issues behind homelessness, and co-tenancy is not the only contributor. In fact, HDB’s recent survey indicates that the vast majority of its single tenants under JSS are able to live together amicably. Many of these tenants have no family support. By living together, they can benefit from companionship and provide mutual support. Rent is also more affordable, as it is shared.

HDB offers partitions in the JSS rental flats to provide more privacy for the single tenants. For the few who are unable to get along, HDB will assist with mediation with the help of Grassroots Organisations and the Community Mediation Centre, or facilitate a change in co-tenant or flat if required.

HDB will continue to work with MSF and the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (PEERS) Network to find sustainable housing options for homeless persons, based on their individual circumstances.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities. She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and climate change in Parliament.

She is also an impact entrepreneur/investor and a passionate mental health advocate, especially in workplace wellbeing. She started WorkWell Leaders Workgroup in May 2018 to bring together top leaders (CXOs, Heads of HR/CSR/D&I) of top employers in Singapore (both public and private) to share, discuss and co-create inclusive practices to promote workplace wellbeing. Anthea is also the founder of Hush TeaBar, Singapore’s 1st silent teabar and a social movement that aims to bring silence, self care and social inclusion into every workplace, every community — with a cup of tea. The Hush Experience is completely led by lovingly-trained Deaf facilitators, supported by a team of Persons with Mental Health Issues (PMHIs).

Follow Anthea Ong on her public page at www.facebook.com/antheaonglaytheng

A full-time human, and part-time everything else.