The interim

Charity transforms office into daytime hang-out

For the past three years, Catholic Welfare Services (CWS) has offered the homeless its prime office space as a place to go to.
For the past three years, Catholic Welfare Services (CWS) has offered the homeless its prime office space as a place to go to.ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

The reception area is often the swishest place in an office - that is where a company presents its best face to receive clients or visitors.

Guests arriving at the office headquarters of Catholic Welfare Services (CWS) in Waterloo Street, however, could be in for a surprise.

They might see one or two people catching some shut-eye on a couch in a corner. Or they might bump into someone just out of the shower who is putting away his belongings in a locker.

For the past three years, CWS has offered the homeless its prime office space as a place to go to.

Drinks and snacks are available in the pantry. There are showers in the office toilets, and a washing machine and dryer for laundry.

PROVIDING LONG-TERM SUPPORT

Helping the homeless isn't about just a one-time sit-down session. Supporting them needs to be a way of life.

MR BRIAN MONTEIRO, a programme executive with Catholic Welfare Services.

People can use the lockers and surf the Internet on the computers. They come to relax and socialise, play carrom or eat packed lunches in air-conditioned comfort.

Said Mr Brian Monteiro, a programme executive with CWS who runs its homeless outreach mission: "Helping the homeless isn't about just a one-time sit-down session. Supporting them needs to be a way of life."

Every day, six or seven people, mostly men, use the spot, having heard of it through word of mouth. On Fridays, volunteers fan out to Toa Payoh, Bras Basah, Rochor and Waterloo to give out buns and drinks, and tell those on the streets about the hub.

Mr Goh Swee Kang, 48, who sleeps at a nearby Housing Board block, goes to the hub daily.

Mostly, he dozes, listens to music, or helps to pack biscuits into tins. A biscuit company pays them some pocket money to do this.

Said Mr Monteiro: "We sometimes give them outsourced work so they feel useful and needed."

Mr Goh does not have a viable place to live as he shares a rental flat in Sin Ming with a hoarder who makes the flat uninhabitable.

"This is a comfortable place," said Mr Goh, who is single and estranged from his seven siblings.

The hub closes at 5pm. For those who need a space at night - though not to sleep in - CWS opened a "night cafe" nearby in May last year, in the living room of an elderly home it runs.

From 9pm to 11.30pm, the homeless can go to St Vincent Home to get food and drinks, watch television or play games.

Mr Saw Chwee Huat, 52, goes every night for some food, to talk to friends and to play games. Before he leaves, he takes a shower in the toilet.

He said: "I come here because everything is free. It is like an American or British soup kitchen, where the poor can go and park their bodies."

Janice Tai

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Charity transforms office into daytime hang-out '. Print Edition | Subscribe