SINGAPORE - An estimated 921 to 1,050 people are homeless and sleep rough in Singapore, a nationwide count by the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy found last year.
The study, conducted by a team led by Assistant Professor Ng Kok Hoe, was supported by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF).
But how did these people become homeless, what is being done to help them and what more can be done to ensure they get the support and care to improve their situation?
A closed-door panel comprising participants from volunteer organisations, academia and the public service will debate these questions and more next Tuesday (March 24) at Singapore Press Holdings in a discussion titled Homelessness: Whose problem is it?
It is organised by The Straits Times (ST) in partnership with the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM).
SKM hopes that the discussions will help develop achievable ideas to tackle the problem of homelessness here.
It will be moderated by SKM general secretary William Wan.
The panellists are Homeless Hearts of Singapore co-founder Abraham Yeo, post-doctoral research fellow in NUS' sociology department Harry Tan, New Hope Community Services chief executive Andrew Khoo and MSF's Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (Peers) Office senior director Lee Kim Hua.
They will debunk stereotypes of the homeless person and highlight the complex issues such a person faces, said SKM.
Said Dr Wan: "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, he said, the SKM decided to bring together people who are already 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," added Dr Wan.
Commenting on 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."
During the discussion, Mr Yeo intends to explore the possibility of how a multi-pronged community approach 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 that the stories and anecdotes shared would inspire Singaporeans to be more aware of the less-privileged around us; and to also respond to a call-to-action to 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 at https://str.sg/Jxez. The deadline is March 23, 2pm.