Network to help the homeless in Singapore expands as efforts ramp up to find them shelter

Nine organisations have joined an expanding network that helps the homeless. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Nine organisations have joined an expanding network that helps the homeless as efforts are ramped up to find more find shelter space for those roughing it in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The new additions to the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (Peers) network include charities and religious groups like Charis Methodist Church and Hope Initiative Alliance.

Their inclusion this month to the network the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) set up in July 2019 comes as demand for services to help "rough sleepers" have increased.

It is expected to continue to rise even as Singapore enters phase three of its reopening, Parliamentary Secretary for MSF Eric Chua told The Straits Times on Friday (Dec 25).

"What we're trying to do is to really make a clarion call to organisations that might be able to step up to be part of the Peers network," said Mr Chua.

He was speaking on the sidelines of an outreach session by the Catholic Welfare Services (CWS), which saw Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration Desmond Lee, who is also Minister for National Development, and CWS staff distribute bags packed with toiletries, food and drinks to those sleeping in the streets in the Bras Basah area.

Mr Chua said the ministry is working hard to find new temporary sleeping shelters, also known as safe sound sleeping places.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the 21 temporary shelters currently available were mostly full, with about a 100 people on a wait list.

The number of temporary shelters had expanded to over 40 during the circuit breaker, but was reduced when the organisations had to resume the primary use of the space set aside for the homeless.

Minister-in-charge of social services integration Desmond Lee and MSF Parliamentary Secretary Eric Chua distributing goodie bags to rough sleepers with Mr Brian Monteiro from the Catholic Welfare Services on Dec 25, 2020. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

The ministry previously said that the economic fallout from Covid-19 had contributed to the higher number of homeless people seen currently, with some having lost their jobs and others finding it tough to afford rent.

There are also those left in limbo here after travel restrictions prevented them from returning to their homes overseas.

Mr Chua on Wednesday noted that "rough sleeping" is likely a manifestation of more complex social problems, including family disputes, so it is important that the Peers partners extend help by allowing them to have a stable environment so they can get back on their feet.

Among those who received a bag of necessities was a 75-year-old kitchen helper who wanted to be known only as Mr Yeo.

He had just returned to his sleeping spot in the city after work when the group arrived.

Mr Yeo said he was "surprised to get a gift" and a visit.

Mr Thomas Tan, chairman of the night missions committee at CWS, said: "We see it as a mission to help our less fortunate brothers and sisters."

Citing Mother Teresa, honoured as St Teresa of Calcutta for helping the destitute, he added: "The greatest sickness is loneliness... everybody needs somebody."

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