Begging an 'easy way out' for some S'poreans

They can collect up to $200 in a few hours and some pretend to be disabled, says MSF

Some of the Singaporeans found begging on the streets are able to work, but choose not to as begging can be easy money.

They can collect $100 to $200 in just a few hours, a Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) spokesman from its Destitute and Shelter Support Branch told The Sunday Times.

"Some are as young as in their 40s. They are able bodied and can work, but it seems they just don't want to," he said. "Some also pretend to be disabled, by tying a bandage to their leg or head."

Other Singaporeans beg as they are broke and estranged from their families. Most local beggars are elderly men.

Ramadan is the peak begging season as Muslims are encouraged to give alms to the poor during the fasting month. Foreign beggars come mostly from Malaysia and Indonesia, but some fly from as far as India and Pakistan to Singapore to beg during Ramadan.

The MSF said it usually receives more feedback about beggars during festive seasons such as Ramadan, Chinese New Year and Christmas. They are seen outside mosques, temples, shopping malls and other busy areas.

The MSF has officers patrolling the streets for beggars and vagrants every day, but one difficulty the officers face in rounding them up is that they are constantly on the move. Once they spot the authorities coming, they run, the MSF spokesman said.

"The beggars walk around and ask passers-by for money. They are no longer sitting around," he added. "They are not shabbily dressed or unkempt but they dress normally. You wouldn't know they are beggars."

Last year, the MSF investigated 71 beggars - up from 53 in 2013 and 61 in 2012 but well below the peak of 133 in 2010.

Between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of those probed in the past five years were from "neighbouring countries", the MSF said, although it did not state their nationalities. Begging is an offence in Singapore and foreign beggars caught are sent to the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority for repatriation and blacklisting.

Local ones have their background checked by the MSF to see how they can be helped.

This could include applying for financial aid schemes for them, providing counselling to sort out their personal or family problems, or assisting them to find a job.

Those who are truly destitute, homeless and have no family support are sent to one of the 12 welfare homes here. About 120 former beggars live in these homes, mostly men in their 60s and 70s.

But most caught begging have homes to go back to. Last year, about 70 per cent of the 43 Singaporeans picked up were sent home to their families.

One Singaporean The Sunday Times found begging is Mr Maideen Marcan. The 43-year-old says he has been sleeping on the streets and begging for more than a decade. He lost his paycheck after being caught drinking on his security guard job. His sister also threw him out of her house as he was always drunk.

He said: "I don't know what else to do, so I beg."

He begs in the Geylang Serai area and says he can collect $30 to $40 after a few hours. Once he has that sum for meals, he stops begging for the day.

The MSF urges needy Singaporeans to approach their nearest Social Service Office, Family Service Centre or other charities for help.

It also advises the public not to give to beggars as this "will encourage begging". Those who want to help the needy are advised to donate to charities. To report beggars, call the ComCare Call hotline on 1800-222-0000.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 02, 2015, with the headline 'Begging an 'easy way out' for some S'poreans'. Print Edition | Subscribe