Authorities to reach out to 50,000 households in rental flats over pandemic-related needs

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
Elderly people eat their meals handed out by a charity organisation at an estate of one-room rental flats in Singapore on 22 July, 2015. (Reuters file photo)

SINGAPORE — Authorities will begin to reach out to those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic, starting first with some 50,000 households living in rental flats, as part of plans to better integrate social aid efforts.

In a virtual press conference held on Tuesday (2 June), Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee stressed that the move towards “an integrated social safety net” of social, health and community services have been a work-in-progress over two years. There is a pressing need to accelerate these efforts and meet the needs of those adversely affected by the COVID-19 situation, he added.

“This pandemic, beyond the public health crisis that it presents, it is likely to have a long tail,” said Lee.

“The economic fallout – both in Singapore and around the globe – is likely to be protracted and severe, of the likes that our generation has not seen. And so we have to make sure that we have the wherewithal and we have the resources and the means to run a marathon.”

Coordinating resources to ‘last this marathon’

To help as many people as possible, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will need to coordinate the resources well across the sectors so as to “last this marathon” and do away with a “siloed approach”, Lee said.

Through the SG Cares Community Network initiative, the MSF – along with the People’s Association, the Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth (MCCY), and community partners – will begin to proactively reach out to families living in rental flats from this month.

The Network comprises 3,500 partners from 160 government and community help agencies across the social, health, and community sectors. Since 2018, the MCCY and the MSF have been working together to organise SG Cares Community Network sessions to bring together agencies and partners to discuss the needs of their respective towns, and explore areas where they can work together to resolve them.

The MSF has held 21 such sessions so far.

Over the next few weeks, a short message service (SMS) will be broadcast to these households to raise public awareness on where to seek help, with posters put up in all housing estates.

Beginning with those who have not had any interaction with social or community services, staff members and volunteers will call or visit such households over the next few months to check on their well-being and let them know where they can approach for help and link them up with the relevant agencies if needed.

“If (they do not need assistance), it's okay. They may also want to volunteer their help to support their neighbours and friends in the community. But if we identify families that are in difficulty or need assistance, then we'll weave in the support back end,” said Lee.

This effort will also serve as a “rallying point” for ground-up groups, volunteers, and donors who wish to partner a network of organisations, such as the SG Cares Community Network, to better utilise their resources for maximum social impact, he added.

“With that kind of network in place, it will put us in a stronger position to support many other people who may fall into crisis during this COVID-19 period, and beyond. Even after the situation recovers down the road, you will have far more cohesive relationships amongst many organisations,” said Lee,

COVID-19 related financial assistance

Lee also shared with the media updates on the various schemes introduced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

For instance, more than 450,000 people were given a one-off $500 cash assistance in April under the Temporary Relief Fund.

Lee noted that some 59,000 applications have been submitted for the COVID-19 Support Grant since its launch in early May. Under the grant, those who have lost their jobs or are placed on involuntary no-pay leave for at least three consecutive months will receive up to $800 per month for three months.

But he also noted, “We have seen donations to COVID-19 related funds going up. Some donate their Solidarity Payment ($600), some donate their own resources or time.”

The number of social service officers has almost tripled in order to meet the needs of the community, Lee said.

“We have also seen family violence reports going up. The ComCare application numbers have also gone up. The number of people calling helplines including the National Care helpline has gone up,” he added.

In response to media queries, an MSF spokesperson said that the ministry’s Adult Protective Service (APS) and Child Protective Service (CPS) have received about 15 per cent more enquiries on family violence in the first four weeks of the circuit breaker, compared with four weeks prior to the circuit breaker.

Our Family Violence Specialist Centres and PAVE Integrated Services for Individual and Family Protection have also seen an increase in the number of enquiries. They have received 480 enquiries in the first four weeks of the circuit breaker period. About half of these enquiries were related to family violence. The rest were related to tension within the family, conflicts and disputes, where there was no actual incident of violence.”

However, the increase in enquiries could also be attributed to heightened vigilance and reporting, given that more are aware of the risk of domestic violence during the COVID-19 period, said the MSF.

The 24-hour National Care hotline, staffed by more than 725 personnel who offer emotional support, has received some 16,000 calls since it was opened in mid-April. About 40 per cent of calls are dealt with by duty officers, while the remaining have been channelled to different organisations for follow up, Lee said.

While some 46 Safe, Sound Sleeping Places (S3Ps) were available during the circuit breaker period to give the homeless and rough sleepers a place to sleep, 15 of them will have to cease as they have to be open for activities, he added.

Safe management measures in preschools

Lee also spoke briefly about his visit to the Little Preschool @ Pasir Ris on Tuesday morning and said that preschools will be focusing on activities to underscore COVID-19 safe management measures.

Preschool children will return in cohorts: K1 and K2 children will return on Tuesday, while Nursery 1 and Nursery 2 children can return on 8 June and infant-care and playgroup children can return from 10 June.

There are some 180,000 preschoolers and 30,000 teachers in preschools across Singapore.

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