Nearly 300 rough sleepers have sought help during circuit breaker period: MSF

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·Senior News & Video Producer
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A man seen sleeping at a bus stop outside the VivoCity shopping mall in the early hours of 18 April 2020, the 12th day of Singapore's partial lockdown. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
A man seen sleeping at a bus stop outside the VivoCity shopping mall in the early hours of 18 April 2020, the 12th day of Singapore's partial lockdown. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Nearly 300 rough sleepers have come forward to seek shelter or assistance during Singapore’s circuit breaker period, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee in Parliament on Monday (4 May).

This number includes many who have been affected by travel restrictions, he said while responding to questions from several Members of Parliament.

Lee noted that when the 26-member Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (Peers) Network was formed in July last year, “less than half of the 65 people engaged were willing to accept help”.

He added that since the circuit breaker measures were implemented on 7 April, his ministry has worked closely with staff from other frontline agencies such as the police and National Parks Board to refer homeless people and rough sleepers to shelters, social service officers and relevant social service agencies.

“Those who are homeless will not face penalties under the control or the regulations if they are assisted by us,” said Lee.

Care packs with hygiene kits and face masks have also been distributed to residents of temporary shelters as well as homeless people on the streets, alongside encouraging them to accept shelter, he added.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) is also working with its Peers Network partners to offer their premises as safe, sound sleeping places (S3Ps).

“Since the start of the circuit breaker, our Peers Network S3Ps have expanded both capacity and operating hours to keep our friends indoors, as much as possible. They’ve allowed the homeless guests to remain in the S3Ps throughout the day and provide them meals,” said Lee.

So far an additional 27 new organisations have answered MSF’s call to action, bringing the total number of groups offering S3Ps to 35. These organisations include the Singapore Anglican Community Services, Masjid Kassim and Tao One Ltd. HDB has also provided vacant rental flats to MSF’s community partners for them to operate S3Ps.

“All the S3Ps are able to accommodate some 700 rough sleepers. Currently, we have about 400 spaces available,” said Lee, adding that there are currently about 70 families and 75 individuals in these transitional shelters.

He noted that the pandemic has reaffirmed the importance of close collaboration between government agencies and community partners. “Our aim is not only to keep homeless people in rough sleepers safe during the COVID-19 pandemic but to help them resolve the underlying challenges, and to get back on their feet, beyond this period,” said Lee.

Helping homeless access benefits

During the session, Nominated Member of Parliament Anthea Ong asked if steps were being taken to ensure that the homeless would have access to the COVID-19 relief measures earlier announced by the government.

Lee said that even prior to the pandemic, MSF along with its Peers Network partners and other agencies have been helping homeless people here to get access to such support.

“We’ve been reaching out to people who are homeless and seeing that they get the support they need, including working with CPF board, working with other agencies, so they get the Solidarity Payment and other support,” he said.

“For homeless people, our partners reach out to them and tell them about the Temporary Relief Fund, tell them about the COVID-19 Support Grant, tell them about the (Self-Employer Persons Income Relief Scheme), have the forms with them available (and) have the brochures with them,” added Lee.

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