Discussion on homeless people, how to help them

There are an estimated 921 to 1,050 people who are homeless and who sleep rough in Singapore.
There are an estimated 921 to 1,050 people who are homeless and who sleep rough in Singapore.PHOTO: ST FILE

An estimated 921 to 1,050 people are homeless and sleep rough in Singapore, a nationwide count by a team led by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore (NUS) found last year.

The study was supported by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).

But how did the homeless people get to their situation, what is being done to help them and what more can be done to ensure they get support and care? A closed-door panel consisting of participants from volunteer organisations, academia and public service will debate these questions and more next Tuesday at Singapore Press Holdings under the topic, Homelessness: Whose problem is it?

The discussion is organised by The Straits Times (ST) in partnership with the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM), which hopes it will develop achievable ideas to tackle the problem of homelessness. It will be moderated by SKM general secretary William Wan.

The panellists are Homeless Hearts of Singapore co-founder Abraham Yeo, postdoctoral research fellow in the department of sociology at NUS Harry Tan, New Hope Community Services chief executive Andrew Khoo and senior director of the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers Office at MSF Lee Kim Hua. They will tackle stereotyping of the homeless and related issues.

Dr Wan said: "We at SKM feel that one person sleeping rough on the streets is one too many. There is much kindness in Singaporeans, but very often, we don't exhibit it out of a lack of empathy or information about a topic such as this."

This is why the SKM decided to bring together people who are working with the homeless to shed light on the challenges they face, and success stories they have seen. "We want Singaporeans to not just be aware of the less privileged around us, but to think of ways they can help," Dr Wan added.

On tackling the number of homeless people in Singapore, Mr Lee said: "We are already working with community groups and social service agencies, but we need to do more to improve the figures."

Mr Yeo hopes to explore the possibility of "how a multi-pronged approach through the community can be more effective to help the homeless in the long run".

He said: "I'd also like to emphasise on the role of ordinary people being friends with the homeless, whether it is religious groups or informal neighbourhood groups."

SKM hopes the stories and anecdotes shared would inspire Singaporeans to be more aware of the less privileged, and they would give their time, expertise or resources to help these people.

ST will carry a summary of the discussion on its website and in print on March 25. More comprehensive coverage of the discussion will appear in print on March 30, with a video available on the ST digital platform the same day. The public can submit their questions or suggestions on the topic to https://str.sg/Jxez. Deadline is March 23, 2pm.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2020, with the headline 'Discussion on homeless people, how to help them'. Print Edition | Subscribe