The answer to that question is, in short, yes. According to a survey done by volunteers of a welfare organisation ‘Montfort Care’ and volunteer group ‘SW101’ in late 2017, there are 180 homeless people sleeping outdoors across 25 locations in Singapore.The same survey also debunked certain generalisations and stereotypes of homeless people in Singapore as being lazy or crazy given that two-thirds of the homeless people interviewed had a job, and more than one-quarter had a flat to their name.
Between 2015 and 2017, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (“MSF”) assisted an average of 385 homelessness cases each year. While this issue might appear invisible to the local eye, but in truth, this makes the issue an even more pertinent one to address.
This article will provide some avenues of help you can direct homeless people to, depending on the nature of the help they require.
Reasons Behind and Risks of Homelessness
Individuals may be in their plight due to multiple reasons – tenancy disagreements with their landlord, poorly managed finances, familial and spousal issues, unemployment, a victim of cheating or fraud, or simply because they do not understand their legal rights. One will also note that a majority of persons in such a situation tend to be of old age and/or are not as educated.
Whilst it is certainly not a crime to be homeless, many homeless persons may find themselves in a precarious situation, as many often have to resort to begging to earn an income. This might pose an issue as under the Destitute Person Act, habitual beggars that cause a “nuisance” in a public space may be penalised with a fine of $3,000 or imprisonment for up to 2 years.
This may even exacerbate a homeless person’s situation, as most would not be able to pay up, should a fine be imposed. This might result in them having to serve a default sentence of imprisonment. Even a short stint in jail will adversely impact these persons, causing them to forgo income they would otherwise have earned or even to lose their job.
It is, however, somewhat comforting to note that there have been no reported prosecutions under the said statute thus far.
As a preventive measure, it may be useful for tenants or other persons at risk of homelessness to seek legal advice at an early stage. Many avenues to obtain legal advice exist, for instance, Pro-bono clinics which can help answer the legal questions of those at risk, and even homeless individuals. One such avenue is the Community Legal Clinic, which is administered by the Law Society Pro Bono Services at the Commnity Justice Centre in the State Courts.
Homeless Shelters: Transitional Shelters
Those who have exhausted all other means of accommodation and are not eligible for Housing and Development Board (HDB) options can apply for temporary accommodation at the Ministry of Social and Family Development’s transitional shelters. One such transitional shelter is run by a social service organisation called AWWA that seeks to help displaced families obtain stable housing in the long run.
Eligibility for Transitional Shelters
According to MSF’s clarifications, Transitional Shelters are only available for the homeless if they have exhausted all other possibilities, such as seeking residence with a family member or a friend. Other disqualifying factors include if the individual has physical or mental health conditions that make it unsuitable for him or her to stay in a transitional shelter. In such situations, the social service worker or agency will refer the individual to the relevant care facilities.
Homeless Shelters: Welfare Homes
Welfare homes are available to individuals who are:
- unable to work;
- have no financial means;
- do not have accommodation;
- do not have family support.
Such individuals will most likely be referred to welfare homes in Singapore. Currently, there are 10 welfare homes registered under the Destitute Persons Act to care for the aforementioned group of individuals.
Individuals seeking financial help can look towards ComCare, an assistance scheme provided by the Government to support low-income individuals and families. ComCare programmes include Workfare, medical, education subsidies and housing assistance.
To qualify for ComCare, individuals must:
- Have a household income of $1,900 and below or a per capita household income of $650 and below; and
- Be a Singapore Citizen or Permanent Resident (with at least one immediate family member in the same household being a Singapore Citizen).
More information on ComCare schemes can be accessed here.
How You Can Help
The first thing to remember is that every homeless individual has their own set of unique circumstances and may require help of a different nature than you envisioned. If you decide to approach a homeless individual (as we highly encourage that you do), try your best to understand their circumstances and their needs – factors such as their housing situation (whether they own or rent a flat but are sleeping on the streets for a different reason), employment situation, income, and family situation would be helpful when it comes to finding the appropriate avenue of help.
As mentioned earlier, homeless individuals may be in their situation due to a large number of reasons – a family dispute or conflict at home and other times, a homeless individual is in dire need of financial aid. In all of these situations, after you have understood their situation, here are some steps that you may take to extend your help:
- refer them to or offer to bring them to the nearest Social Service Office or Family Service Centre
- call the ComCare hotline (1800-222 0000) to ask for more information on how you may assist the homeless individual
- refer them to volunteer organisations such as the Homeless Hearts of Singapore (hyperlink: https://homeless.sg)
- refer them to a pro-bono clinic if they are undergoing any legal issues with tenancy disputes, or if they simply need help writing appeals to shelters that have rejected their application.
Furthermore, if you encounter a homeless individual who is experiencing domestic violence at home, there are MSF crisis shelters available to them. Do offer to bring them to the nearest Family Service Centre or AWWA.
It is also important to note that many homeless persons are inherently hesitant to approach others for help or accept help. Whilst it is a noble task to reach out and help others, one must take sufficient care not to overstep personal boundaries. It might take some time and effort before the individual is willing to open himself up and accept your gesture, but this can only happen if mutual trust and respect is maintained.
People say, “Out of sight; out of mind”, but just because one does not see the invisible hardships which homeless people face does not mean that this problem does not exist. In the face of ever-increasing property prices, it is all the more important for our society to be equipped to prevent homelessness and to assist our homeless peers to find a place in our Home, truly.
Have a question about homelessness?
If you have any questions about homelessness, you can get a Quick Consult with Nigel Sim or other lawyers. With Quick Consult, from a transparent, flat fee of $49, a lawyer will call you on the phone within 1-2 days to give you legal advice.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.