SINGAPORE - A network formed in November 2019 has been reaching out and befriending vulnerable individuals in the community, such as tissue paper sellers and cardboard and can collectors.
The Vulnerable-in-the-Community Network comprises the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF), Central Singapore Community Development Council and volunteer organisations Mummy Yummy, Heartwarmers and The Signpost Project.
In response to queries from The Straits Times, an MSF spokesman said the network has been providing more coordinated and integrated support for the vulnerable individuals islandwide.
It has been linking them up with relevant agencies such as social service offices (SSOs) and family service centres for assistance, including providing funds, shelter and food.
Since the network was formed, volunteers have been carrying out regular walks to find such individuals and build rapport with them, said the MSF spokesman.
This is similar to the Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (Peers) network set up by MSF in July 2019 that engages rough sleepers and offers coordinated assistance.
During the circuit breaker period, the volunteers' scheduled walks continued fortnightly and in smaller groups, with safety precautions taken.
Volunteers also remotely checked in on the well-being of those contacted previously and reminded them not to go out unless necessary.
"If the individuals have health or mobility issues that prevent them from going out to buy food for themselves, our partners will deliver food and groceries to them," said the MSF spokesman.
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Sunday (June 14) posted about the network on Facebook after joining volunteers from Heartwarmers at an outreach walk on Friday.
"Some seniors have difficulty staying at home during the circuit breaker. Sometimes it is due to family problems or financial issues; sometimes it may be due to isolation and loneliness, or mental health challenges," he said.
"(The network) enables many good-hearted ground-up groups to work together with each other and with MSF to cover more ground, widen their outreach, and better integrate the support for vulnerable people in the community," said Mr Lee, who added that he hoped more volunteers and groups would come on board to strengthen social safety networks.
The MSF spokesman said the latest network is like other partnerships the ministry has set up with the private, public and people sectors, such as the SG Care Community Network Outreach that checks on low-income and vulnerable households, and KidStart, a child development programme for children up to age six.
Under these partnerships, those involved share information and provide integrated support while building a trusting relationship.
A Mummy Yummy spokesman said that after joining the network, it was able to share with the ministry the complex cases that it had come across during outreach and seek advice.
"Over these few months, we learnt so much on how we could refer our beneficiaries to SSOs for more comprehensive support," he said, adding that it was better to work together to help others.
Mr Tan Chin Lee, chairman of Heartwarmers, said that vulnerable individuals had unique issues, such as problems with family or finances, and some did not know if they had money for the next day, and were unsure about government support schemes.
"We assist and explain, and link them up with all the resources available," said Mr Tan.
"Especially during this Covid-19 period, no Singaporean should be left behind. Networks like this are a crucial platform for us to provide holistic support to each individual."
Mr Nur Hazeem Abdul Nasser, founder and president of The Signpost Project, a group of student volunteers from Yale-NUS College, said the group had noticed a few peddlers in the Clementi and Holland Village area and decided to engage them. They then contacted MSF and joined the network.
"Not everyone (the peddlers) has the same background and story. We try to understand them and liaise with them to provide them with the resources they need."
Groups interested to join the network can e-mail Ask_SSO@msf.gov.sg.