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Support for homeless and rough sleepers during COVID-19

Mr Gan Thiam Poh 
MP for Ang Mo Kio GRC

Mr Murali Pillai 
MP for Bukit Batok

Ms Anthea Ong
NMP

Questions 

To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) how many residents are currently housed in interim housing and welfare homes; (b) how many of them are homeless with relatives and without relatives respectively; and (c) how many have refused to be housed in a welfare home or housing despite the arrangements made for them.

To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) what steps are being taken to deal with rough sleepers at public areas to ensure compliance with the requirement under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020 that every individual must stay at or in, and not leave, his or her ordinary place of residence; and (b) whether there are sufficient places in shelters to house these rough sleepers.

To ask the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) what is the current total capacity of homeless shelters with the safe distancing measures; (b) how many rough sleepers have been housed and how many have been booked by the police since the start of the circuit breaker; (c) what is the ramp-up plan; (d) how is the Ministry ensuring that the COVID-19 measures are reaching all homeless persons; (e) what types of care and support are given to those who are still on the streets; and (f) what learning has been gathered on our strategy on the homeless with the COVID-19 crisis.

Combined Answer

1. I will address Mr Gan Thiam Poh’s and Mr Murali Pillai’s questions on homelessness in this reply, as well as the question from Ms Anthea Ong, which was filed for tomorrow.

2. As the COVID-19 outbreak evolves, ensuring the safety of those who are homeless and rough sleeping is of paramount importance to MSF and the PEERS Network, which stands for Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers Network. The PEERS Network currently has 26 members, and includes government agencies, social service agencies and ground-up community groups.

3. We have seen an increase in the number of people seeking shelter over the past month. When the PEERS Network was formed in July 2019, less than half of the 65 people engaged were willing to accept help. During the Circuit Breaker, nearly 300 people have come forward so far to seek shelter and assistance, including many who were affected by travel restrictions.

4. Since the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020 were effected, we have worked closely with our colleagues in the frontline agencies such as the Police and NParks to refer homeless people and rough sleepers to our shelters, Social Service Offices, and relevant social service agencies for shelter and financial assistance. Those who are homeless will not face penalties under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020, if they are assisted by us.

5. We are deeply grateful to our community partners and social services agencies in the PEERS Network, who have continued their efforts amidst the COVID-19 outbreak by reaching out to the homeless and providing social intervention. We have also distributed care packs with hygiene kits and surgical masks to temporary shelter residents, as well as homeless persons in the streets alongside encouraging them to accept shelter.

6. To meet the need for more shelter spaces, we have worked together with both existing and new PEERS partners to offer their premises as Safe Sound Sleeping Places, or S3Ps. Since the start of the Circuit Breaker, our PEERS S3Ps have expanded both capacity and operating hours to keep our friends indoors as much as possible. They have allowed their homeless guests to remain in the S3Ps throughout the day time and provided them meals. PEERS Partners such as Buddha Tooth Relic Temple, Catholic Welfare Services, Good News Community Services and New Hope Community Services have also stepped forward to run new S3Ps as we expected there would be more people needing shelter during the pandemic.

7. 27 new organisations have answered our call to action, bringing the total number of organisations setting up or operating S3Ps to 35. Some of these are Singapore Anglican Community Services together with the Anglican Diocese of Singapore, Kassim Mosque, Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church, Pasir Panjang Hill Community Services, Assyakirin Mosque and Tao One Ltd. HDB has also provided vacant rental flats to our community partners, for them to operate as S3Ps during this crisis.

8. Together, all the S3Ps are able to accommodate some 700 rough sleepers. Currently, we have about 400 spaces available. We would like to thank all our partners for generously welcoming our homeless friends as guests into their premises and operating the S3Ps round the clock at this time.

9. There are currently about 70 families and 75 individuals in our Transitional Shelters. These shelters provide a safe place for residents while social workers help them address their social issues and work towards long-term, stable accommodation.

10. There is a small proportion of homeless individuals who may be destitute as they lack family support and are unable to care for themselves. There are currently about 1,900 such individuals housed in Welfare Homes. We provide care and rehabilitation at Welfare Homes to improve their physical and emotional well-being, and where possible, re-integrate them into the community. MSF encourages potential destitute persons to admit themselves to Welfare Homes for their own safety and well-being. We do not track the number of individuals who decline help.

11. Mr Gan Thiam Poh asked how many residents in Transitional Shelters and Welfare Homes have relatives. We do not have that information readily on-hand, but 90% of individuals in Transitional Shelters and Welfare Homes are single, divorced, widowed, or separated.

12. Ms Anthea Ong asked about the learning gathered from our strategy on the homeless with the COVID-19 crisis. The crisis has reaffirmed the importance of close collaboration between government agencies and community partners. Together with our partners and other members of the community, we have been able to quickly extend help to the homeless during this period. Our aim is not only to keep homeless people and rough sleepers safe during the COVID-19 outbreak, but to help them resolve their underlying challenges and get back on their feet beyond this period. ​

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