Singapore certainly has a reputation for being expensive and having a high cost of living, and while Crazy Rich Asians may have made it seem like there are millionaires everywhere in the country — there really aren’t.
Indeed, Singapore is home to many millionaires and billionaires (think Hai Di Lao founder Zhang Yong and Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin) and is one of the richest countries in the world with high economic indicators such as a GDP of over US$372 billion and GDP per capita of over US$65,233 as of 2019, according to World Bank data.
Singaporeans’ incomes have also grown steadily in the last few years. Statistics from the Ministry of Manpower show that median gross monthly income of full-time employed residents grew a cumulative 14.8% from 2015 to 2020. For 2019 and 2020, the median income of residents was found to be around $4,500.
Income from employment is generally an indicator of economic well being. Many of us are well off enough to afford housing thanks to HDB housing grants and subsidies, with 90% of people owning their HDB flat.
However, there are still people out there who do not have a roof over their heads. What often goes unmentioned and unnoticed are the homeless in Singapore. There are about 921 to 1,050 homeless people in Singapore, according to a nationwide study done by the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in 2019.
For all its riches, income inequality does exist in Singapore and the divide has been quite large only until recently. Singapore’s Gini coefficient was 0.452 in 2019. The Gini coefficient is a measure of income inequality from 0 to 1, where 0 being the most equal. A Gini coefficient above 0.4 means a large income gap.
The Gini coefficient only fell to 0.375 in 2020, the lowest in 20 years, thanks to government transfers and taxes.
However, for the really poor, upward mobility is not easy and there are those who still fall through the cracks.
Homelessness in Singapore
In the first of its kind study done on homelessness in Singapore, there were some sobering finds that presented themselves:
- There were homeless people in most parts of Singapore, with more found in larger and older housing estates and estates with more rental flats.
- Most of the homeless people were older Chinese men.
- They most often slept at HDB void decks or commercial buildings.
- The main reason for their homelessness were economic, family, housing-related and health problems.
- They had irregular work or worked in low-wage jobs as cleaners or security guards.
- 1 in 4 interviewees out of 88 had eaten one meal a day or none at all.
According to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), homelessness is someone “who feels he has no home to go back to, whether he owns a house or is renting a place”.
The good thing is that more is being done to support homeless people in Singapore by the government and various community and religious organisations.
MSF PEERS Network
Between 2016 to 2018, an average of around 290 homeless people in Singapore received assistance from MSF each year. The government also funds shelters and interim rental housing for homeless people to stay before they purchase their own HDB flats.
In July 2019, MSF launched the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (Peers) Network, which includes government agencies, social service agencies, and community groups. These PEERS partners — which include Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Catholic Welfare Services, Good News Community Services and New Hope Community Services — offer their premises to the homeless as Safe, Sound Sleeping Places (S3Ps).
During the 2020 Circuit Breaker, PEERS partners expanded their capacity and operating hours to provide for homeless people. New organisations such as Singapore Anglican Community Services, Kassim Mosque and Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church also signed up to offer their premises as S3Ps. HDB also offered vacant rental flats to PEERS partners to operate as S3Ps during the pandemic.
To date, there are 35 organisations running S3Ps, and can accommodate around 700 homeless.
Transitional Shelters for the Homeless
There are also three transitional shelters, which are temporary safe accommodations for displaced people. There are three transitional shelters:
- Ang Mo Kio Family Service Centre Community Services
- New Hope Transitional Shelter for Families in Crisis
From 2016 to 2019, these shelters saw an average of 70 individuals. People can stay up to six months while social workers help them find more long-term housing and employment.
For those who have experienced family violence and need a safe place away from their homes, there are four MSF-funded Crisis Shelters as well with a total capacity of 220 beds, which has assisted an average of 190 family violence cases.
Homeless Shelters in Singapore – How you can donate or get help
Reasons why people are homeless are complex. We’re not here to judge but instead, present you some ways you can help out a fellow human in need.
If you come across a homeless person, call the ComCare hotline at 1800-222-0000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, where relevant agencies will be able to take the next steps.
Another obvious way to help would be to donate to community organisations that support the homeless.
Here are some organisations that help homeless people in Singapore:
Homeless Hearts of Singapore
- Website: https://homeless.sg/
- Contact: email@example.com
The Homeless Hearts of Singapore outreach group aims to help the homeless re-integrate into the community by providing temporary aid, and advocacy.
It works with various partners such as the MSF and Institute of Mental Health, as well as other community organisations to provide food and medical assistance.
Its website also has tips on how you can help should you encounter a homeless person. The first thing to note is to not call the authorities on a homeless person unless you first obtain their permission. It encourages people to direct them to the nearest Family Service Centre and offer some food or help in non-monetary terms, and above all, behave with compassion.
Homeless Hearts of Singapore accepts donations, and you can sign up on its website. For those keen to take a more active role, you can sign up as a volunteer where you can befriend the homeless or join as an advocate to research and contribute to developing solutions to help.
Catholic Welfare Services
- Website: www.catholicwelfare.org.sg
- Address: Catholic Centre, 55 Waterloo Street #06-01, S187954
- Contact: 6337 7954
The charity arm of the Catholic Church, the Catholic Welfare Services (CWS), helps the poor and underprivileged in Singapore through its various programmes.
It works with a few churches to provide shelter to those in need for the might. It also runs a CWS Hub that provides personal grooming facilities for the homeless.
It also runs a weekly Night Mission where volunteers befriend homeless people to help them. Contact 6333 5484 to find out more about the initiative.
The organisation accepts donations online.
New Hope Community Services (NHCS)
- Website: https://www.newhopecs.org.sg/
- Address: Blk 148 Yishun Street 11, #01-123, S760148
- Contact: 6305 9620
A registered charity that supports the underprivileged. It manages a Shelter for Displaced Families and individuals who have been referred to NHCS. Those in need will be assigned a case manager who will work with relevant organisations such as the HDB to secure long-term housing.
NHCS also provides life-skills training, basic counseling, mediation sessions (only when necessary), job placement assistance, and monthly food ration to those who stay at the shelter.
It also runs a shelter for homeless male ex-offenders, Transit Point@Spooner, which can accommodate 60 men.
The organisation also recently opened a new shelter last March called Transit Point@Margaret Drive which aims to help people going through family issues and can house up to 100 people. People can stay for up to one year here.
NHCS accepts volunteers and those interested can sign up on its website.
Yio Chu Kang Chapel
- Website: https://yckc.org.sg/s3pyckchapel/
- Address: 242 Yio Chu Kang Road, S545671
- Contact: 6288 1675 / firstname.lastname@example.org
The chapel has registered as a S3P since Nov 2019 to offer a place for the homeless to sleep. People can come from 7.30pm to sleep, make use of the facilities such as washing machines and have refreshments, and leave at 7.30am the next morning.
It partners Bless Community Services, which works to help stayers find jobs and long-term housing.
The chapel has a capacity of 15 beds.
- Website: https://www.scwo.org.sg/
- Contact: 6571 0192, 6571 0193, 6571 0191
*location cannot be published to protect victims
The shelter is a temporary refuge for women and children who are victims of domestic abuse. They are mainly referred by Family Court, Family Service Centres, the Police, Hospitals and other Agencies.
Star Shelter provides meals, trauma counselling and case management. Its Rebuild programme also offers a one off financial aid to fund victims’ transport costs while they look for employment and a no-interest home loan.
Those interested can donate everyday items such as canned food, food staples, toiletries and laundry detergent. Cash donations can also be made online.
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This article was written by Audrey A.. She can’t wait to move into her own place so she can finally get a cat (or two) and an espresso machine to fuel her love for flat whites. For now, she’s saving up and dreaming of her next trip.