12 Aug 2012, 1.44PM
Home Today, Gone Tomorrow
Property Guru – Wed, Aug 8, 2012
In a country publicly defined by wealth and GDP, a good number of people have only the streets to call home. The PropertyGuru's Cheryl Tay reports on the worrying prevalence of homelessness in Singapore. Singapore is often hailed by its own government and those in business as a financial hub, seemingly immune to economic issues which plague other countries. Even as the Eurozone faces a severe sovereign debt crisis, Singapore boasts one of the world's highest GDP per capita and continues to impress tourists and other foreigners with its infrastructure.
Of course, it would be unfair to assume that Singapore is ideal only for tourists and foreigners. The government has enforced laws to ensure that all citizens can live comfortably — public housing, in particular, is subject to a comprehensive set of rules and regulations to encourage home-ownership. Home loans, grants and schemes are available to first-timers, senior citizens and low-income households. In Parliament earlier this year, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Tharman Shanmugaratnam uttered the infamous words: "Our enhanced housing grants for lower income families are such that a family with a monthly income of as low as S$1,000 can now purchase a small flat."
The resulting backlash was telling. In an affluent country like Singapore, where everyone is promised a roof over his head, one may not think being homeless is a major issue. In fact, former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew once proclaimed, "You go down New York, Broadway. You will see the beggars...where are the beggars in Singapore?"
But seemingly contradictory is Minister for Environment and Water Resources Vivien Balakrishnan's statement on the matter: "If you were a poor person, anywhere on this planet, Singapore is the one place where you will have a roof over your head, where you will have food on the table."
The numbers, however, tell a different story. From 2006 to 2009, the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports (MCYS) picked up an annual average of 85 beggars. The MCYS website states: "Begging is an offence in Singapore under the Destitute Persons Act. Singaporeans in financial distress do not have to beg. They can approach the Community Development Councils, Family Service Centres or grassroots organisations for help."
Despite this, MCYS reported picking up 389 homeless people in 2011, excluding those it may have missed and those already in homeless shelters. International news network Al Jazeera caused a stir in 2010 when it reported on a Singaporean couple known as Samiah and Eddie, who had apparently lost their homes in divorce proceedings and were unable to rent due to government housing policies. In its video entitled Government Policies Force Some Onto The Streets, it was also alleged that tented communities in Singapore are "raided" by government authorities when discovered.
Dr. Balakrishnan disputed these findings in Parliament: "In Singapore, we have…cheap affordable rental housing as well as heavily-subsidised first-time entry into home-ownership. The people…who insist on staying in beaches and parks are not first-timers. These are people who have almost always sold their second or third flat (and) have unfortunately dissipated the subsidies and cashed them and now have run into problems."
Whether or not Al Jazeera's report was indeed factual is still unclear. But the statistics beg the question of just how serious the homeless situation in Singapore is.
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