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P4650 Symposium

Type: Official Speeches: Desmond Lee, Official Speeches (All)

Topic(s): Children & Families, Financial Assistance & Social Support

1Thank you for inviting me to join you for this Symposium on Project 4650 (four six five zero).

2The Ministry of National Development (MND) introduced the IRH scheme or the Interim Rental Housing scheme back in 2009, during the time of the financial crisis, to house needy families temporarily, in HDB flats that were vacated for future development. So people moved out and the flats were vacant, so MND used the flats for Interim Rental Housing.

  • This gave families some stability and time to work towards their long-term housing solutions.
  • In 2010, Blocks 46 and 50 at Bedok South became part of this IRH scheme.

3Many of the families moving into the Bedok IRH not only faced housing challenges, but also had multiple stressors in their lives. Unemployment, debt, family crises, illness, disability, addiction, and so on.

  • Seeing the complex challenges that these families faced, South East CDC, led by Mayor Maliki, stepped forward to coordinate support for them.
  • And this was how Project 4650 started.

4Now, what are some of the defining characteristics of this project?

  • First, it involved many community partners and government agencies, who stepped forward to provide support for these families, in various ways. Each with their own schemes, programmes and focus.
  • These partners include HDB, PAVE, the Town Council, MSF's Social Service Office (SSO), and many many other agencies and VWOs. Altogether, some 14 organisations, and community groups and grassroots groups were involved in this project.
  • But instead of operating in silo, where each agency and VWO operating on their own and intervening with the family directly, these organisations coordinated their support.
  • They met regularly at the table with each other, as well as with the families, to work through problems together, and tailor solutions to address the specific needs and challenges of each family.
  • They updated each other about the support measures and initiatives they put in place for the families. So everyone else knew what everyone else was doing, in terms of what they were providing for the family.
  • They presented a single interface which the families could engage, while ensuring that they shared information with each other at the back-end, to understand the family's situation holistically. So you see the family and the difficulties they faced, rather than seeing the issues that your agency focuses on.
  • PAVE's social workers played a key role in aligning this support across various agencies, and they journeyed with the families.
  • But instead of pushing the families into passive mode, where they wait and receive the various kinds of support, this partnership approach sought to harness the strengths and the abilities and assets of these families, to work towards better outcomes for themselves and their children.

5Volunteers and the local community were also an integral part of this collaboration.They actively engaged the children and their families living in the IRH blocks, and introduced programmes such as tuition and parenting workshops.

6Over the past 5 years, more than 1,100 families have stayed at these two IRH Blocks, Blocks 46 and 50.At the end of the project in April this year, I understand from South East CDC that almost half of these households have moved on to own their own HDB flats again.

Recognising the need to uplift families in rental housing and the need to transform social service delivery across the sector

7Now, home ownership provides stability for families in Singapore.

  • About 90 per cent of Singapore households own their own homes.
  • And even among the households in the bottom 10 per cent in terms of income, it is 84 per cent homeownership. For the bottom 20 per cent of income, it is 87 per cent homeownership rate.

8However, there are families who are beset by serious challenges, such as debt, health problems, disability, unemployment, financial difficulty, addiction, family conflict and many many others.As a result, they may lose their home, and have to move from place to place seeking shelter from friends and family.

9Those who have no housing option may seek shelter under HDB's Public Rental scheme or Interim Rental Housing scheme. They may also receive financial assistance, and other forms of support from social workers and other community partners.

10To better help families who are in rental housing to own their own homes again, MND had launched the Fresh Start Housing Scheme in 2016,. to support families that want to go back to homeownership. Give them additional support, give them additional grant support.

  • And to date, 67 families have been placed on this scheme, with HDB working closely with MSF to support these families.
  • This requires coordination and commitment.

11But in spite of this, some families in rental housing continue to face complex, interlocking challenges that continue to weigh them down.

  • They have to approach different touch points and navigate the social service system, because each agency and each VWO focuses on a specific issue, an area, has a range of schemes and they have to access the different touch points in order to get the kind of assistance they need.
  • Help is rendered by different organisations, and with varying information about the client and the family, there really isn't anyone having a complete and holistic picture of the client and his family, and weaving all these schemes and programmes together.
  • Without proper coordination and synchronisation to tackle upstream causes and relieve downstream symptoms, it will not be easy to uplift these families.

12To achieve better outcomes for these families, we need to place clients and families, not organisations, at the centre of our intervention and support.

  • And this is where integration and coordination of social services is key. It is not just a procedural re-organisation of the way you deliver services, but the way you do so in terms of the way you analyse the family's issues. Synchronise and organise the way resources and support is brought together to assist these families and harness their strengths. It is a fundamental approach that we desire should result in a better upliftment of these families.
  • And when government and community agencies come together to provide a more coordinated network of care and support for our clients and their families, we can more holistically tackle the challenges that the low-income and vulnerable face.
  • And in the course of it, identify better the gaps, kinks and inconsistencies in our schemes, our programmes and our policies that we need to resolve.

13At the Social Service Summit just yesterday morning and during the Committee of Supply in Parliament in March this year, I spoke about the need to transform the way social services is currently delivered, towards a more integrated approach.And this is born from the feedback that we have been receiving over the years. And in fact since I joined the MSF family, many people in the community including social workers, organisations say that it is time to coordinate and work together better.

14One of the ways in which we are doing so, is to create networks and structures to bring the people in our social services more closely together at the local level, in the community level

  • Since May, we have been organising annual SG Cares Community Networks in each of our HDB towns. So every month we will organise one in each town.
  • And who will we bring together? We will bring together the SSO; the FSCs that operate in the town, VWOs that are supporting people living there; the grassroots; and the community; schools; IHLs; healthcare institutions, and so on, all at the local level. Bring them together, bring the working professionals together.
  • By doing this, we want to facilitate conversations and connections among the people from these organisations at the local level who provide social services, informal community support as well as potential volunteers who can help us to close some of these last mile gaps. Bring them all together.
  • Allow them to come together not just as organisations, but as individuals with skills and the common desire to uplift families.
  • Allow them to build personal and professional relationships that can be better harnessed to coordinate and support our vulnerable in the midst.
  • So when you bring professionals together, whatever their organisation is, they see a common alignment and they see their role in tackling the interlocking causes and alleviating the symptoms. I think some of these organisational silos and invisible impediments between organisations may melt away and allow us to work more holistically together. So that is the SG Cares Community Networks for social services in every HDB town.
  • And we will do this once a year, every year, for every HDB town. And in the intervening months between each of this community sessions, our SSOs will convene smaller groups to deep dive into specific issues whether it's around children, whether it's around disability, whether it's around elder care and so on, so that we can better look and relook at our SOPs, coordination, support, look at where the gaps are, the kinks are, and then iron them out. In this way, the headquarters of the different Ministries will also get valuable feedback about the operationalisation of these policies and schemes on the ground within families.

15 Now another example of this coordinated and targeted approach, is the Community Networks for Seniors (CNS) by MOH. It was piloted before this year, MOH announced, and as part of SG Cares, they will roll it out nationally. This approach has certain characteristics. It is targeted, it is data-driven, it is broad-based and coordinated and integrated. Through the partnership of a huge network of Government agencies, community partners, grassroots, community groups, and the involvement of ordinary citizens who care.

  • CNS supports seniors living alone, and connect them to a range of social and healthcare resources.
  • This partnership allows more effective problem-solving on the ground, when volunteer befrienders such as neighbours and community leaders living in close proximity to these seniors living alone, can refer seniors to one single agency, one single interface, one single touch point, if they notice that the senior might need some assistance or help.
  • And in turn, that single interface or agency will then work behind the scenes with a whole range of organisations to coordinate assistance for the elderly person from other organisations.
  • And so you know, there is a Silver Generation Office with Silver Generation Ambassadors. With data, they identify and approach these seniors living alone, seek their consent for them to participate in the Community Network for Seniors. So it is data-driven with consent, it is targeted. People going to their door introducing themselves and say 'this is your neighbour, can I introduce you to him or her?' And this person will then keep an eye out. If there is any difficulty, this volunteer will not be expected to call one or ten organisations, but one touch point. And behind the scenes, we will work to address the difficulties that this senior faces.
  • So this is another example of coordinated and targeted approach.

Strengthening support for rental communities

16 Likewise, we can do more to uplift families living in rental housing. Public rental housing goes beyond shelter, and can serve as a gateway to more integrated social support.

  • There will be a group who require rental housing as a long-term solution, especially low-income seniors with no family support. This group will continue to receive integrated support from our services.
  • For many other families, addressing their social issues and eventually possibly owning their own home again can help secure a more stable future for themselves and for their children.
  • While long-term housing stability and homeownership is key, it is equally important to work with the families closely to help them resolve their issues, and overcome their difficulties, to improve their circumstances and achieve their potential.
  • In this way, families' needs will be addressed more holistically and they receive the support so that, for example, their children can attend school or childcare regularly, enjoy stable family relationships, and secure stable employment.
  • The journey may not be easy, as the P4650 experience suggests. The panellists later will share more on their ground experience. Families need to work closely with the social workers to sustain the changes needed to meet their goals and aspirations.

17 But we must certainly give this a push. MND and MSF are therefore working together to bring social service hubs in and around rental housing precincts, for a more targeted and proactive approach to engage and support families living in rental flats.

18 So similar approach to the SG Cares Community Networks, but bring it into rental housing precincts. Same concept as the Community Networks for Seniors - targeted, integrated, coordinated and bring it right to the door step. What does this entail? So let me just broadly sketch it out.

19 First, we will pull in and anchor these key services more closely together for these families, to increase their access to these support services. And in fact, we will bring the services to them.

  • The support can start right from their point of entry into a rental flat, until they move to their own purchased flat.
  • This would require redesigning today's public rental journey, so that we can enable families to improve their circumstances and achieve greater stability.

20 That's number one. Second, these services will be more tightly integrated and coordinated, putting the families and their needs at the heart of their work. Back-end, agencies and VWOs will work together to get a better understanding of the families' and their needs and strengths and assets, and work with some of these families on a joint action plan.

21 Third, this effort will not be limited to government agencies and Voluntary Welfare Organisations.

  • We welcome the support and active participation of foundations, corporate enterprises, institutions and philanthropists who would like to anchor their giving and volunteering in some of these rental housing precincts.
  • They can provide complementary services that can address the needs of the families living in the rental flats.
  • We will provide community space in and around these estates, which can host these services to be provided or supported by these corporates and volunteers, also volunteers living in and around the estates, as well as our partner agencies.
  • Our SSOs or social service agencies will curate these spaces based on the needs of the rental households.

22 Four, we want to co-create this community space with families living in the neighbourhood, who can also play a part in serving their own community, their own families

  • We want to hear from them on what they would find useful so that agencies can ensure optimal use of this space to bring their services closer to the families.
  • I saw some of this when I visited a rental housing precinct in Henderson-Dawson in March this year. Their WeLL programme, which is driven by volunteers, and grassroots leaders, by students, by retirees, by working adults, have been in operation for over 13 years.
  • Their WeLL centre now houses many community-based and agency-led programmes that support parents and children in rental housing families.
  • But the programme coordinators recognised the strengths of members of the households themselves to help themselves and others. In fact some volunteer at the centre. And I also met a group of young adults - some still studying in IHLs, some graduated and working, who were themselves previously beneficiaries of these schemes and programmes at the void deck centre. They have grown up, done well or are in IHLs, and they often come forward to pay it back on a regular basis.

23 As families regain their stability, our hope is to enable and empower those in rental housing to uplift themselves out of their difficult circumstances.This should include more families then being able to move on to more stable housing and purchase their own home again, so that their children will have a more stable environment to realise their potential.

24 We will introduce this mode of integrated social service support, in 2 to 3 neighbourhoods for a start.

  • These social service hubs can be actual physical anchoring of space and facilities, or they may also be virtual connections of services already existing around the estates. And each estate and how it is developed will turn on the configuration of the estate.
  • Ultimately, we want to improve our delivery of social services to these families.
  • This is part of the broader efforts that I mentioned earlier on more effective integration of social services.


25 Today's symposium allows all of us as a community to discuss how we can collectively provide coordinated and sustained support to uplift these families.

  • The speakers today will share their experiences and perspectives.
  • For the social workers and future practitioners who are seated among us, this event serves as a good platform to deepen our knowledge by learning from each other's best practices and exchange of ideas.

26 So in closing, I would like to thank all the partners here.

  • The many agencies, the many volunteers who over many years have committed themselves to working on P4650.
  • Thank you for making a difference, for working together across different organisations, developing a common ethos, putting the clients at the heart of everything we do.
  • And being one of many examples that show that when we work together, work in partnership, we enable and not disable families in difficulties.
  • I think we can see some upliftment, some results. And I think that is one of the ways in which we want to head towards.

27 Thank you and have a good symposium ahead.