Coronavirus: Groups can apply to run services providing essential aid

Volunteers helping to pack food at Food from the Heart in February. Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Monday said many social service agencies and volunteer groups have asked if they can continue with their community service o
Volunteers helping to pack food at Food from the Heart in February. Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Monday said many social service agencies and volunteer groups have asked if they can continue with their community service outreach during the circuit breaker period.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Social service agencies and volunteer groups can apply to the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) for permission to run services that provide essential aid, such as food and financial support, during the month-long circuit breaker.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee described the need to "strike a sensible balance" between ensuring that vulnerable people get essential support and maintaining the need for Singaporeans to stay at home to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

He said in a Facebook post late on Monday: "The NCSS will coordinate and work with you to ensure that our vulnerable get support during the circuit breaker, while ensuring they are kept safe and your volunteers and staff achieve stringent safe distancing. Some activities must continue, others can be modified or temporarily suspended."

He noted that many groups have asked if they can continue with their community service outreach during the month-long closure of most workplaces, except for essential services such as supermarkets, clinics and key banking services.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has also suspended or reduced non-essential social services during this period.

Only essential social services are continuing to operate, such as social service offices, which administer the Government's financial aid schemes, shelters for the homeless and homes for youth offenders.

MSF-funded social service agencies involved in crisis intervention for serious, high-risk and urgent cases, like domestic violence, are also still open.

Montfort Care, which provides social services through its family service centres and programmes for seniors, says its staff are continuing to provide services remotely over the phone or online. It is applying for permission to carry out certain services in person, such as management of clients in crisis who are suicidal or victims of family violence.

Homeless Hearts of Singapore, a charity helping people who sleep rough, has applied and received the go-ahead to continue its outreach work for urgent cases, such as those who are seriously ill.

 
 
 
 

Its co-founder, Mr Abraham Yeo, said that sometimes, the only way to help homeless people is to meet them in person to assess their situation and attend to their needs.

Social workers also said the stay-home rule has increased tensions in many families they see. This is worse for those living in cramped quarters like one or two-room rental flats.

A significant number of clients, such as those who work in the food and beverage sector or in delivery, have seen their incomes fall during the crisis and this adds to the stress at home, said non-profit organisation AMP Singapore's executive director Zarina Yusof.

Some family violence specialist centres such as Trans Safe Centre said they have seen an escalation and recurrence of violence among their clients in the past few weeks since stricter social distancing measures took effect.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2020, with the headline 'Groups can apply to run services providing essential aid'. Print Edition | Subscribe