Friday, January 29, 2010

Homeless and homeless-to-be

Over the past few weeks, I had become involved in some activities organised by TOC to visit the homeless, bring some gifts and listen to their personal histories. It was an eye-opener.

Through these outings and talking to other participants, I learned that all the homeless shelters in Singapore are packed. There is no room for more. HDB rental flats had a long waiting list with a waiting time of about 2 years. Hence the "latecomers" started camping at the beaches.

And here they encounter problems with NParks regulations. To pitch a tent in the park, a permit is required. Each person is allowed to book up to 8 days each month. If anyone is found to be camping without a permit, he will be fined and ordered to leave. If anyone is found in the tent whose name was not in the permit, the permit applicant is blacklisted so that he can no longer apply for any more permits. So where are these people to go? That does not seem to be anybody's problem except the homeless themselves'.

Not all of the homeless are jobless, some are still holding jobs, but the pay is too low for them to buy / continue paying for a flat. In one case, the husband had a job, a night shift job, and he had to give it up because he could not leave his wife in the park alone. Once you are homeless and jobless, it can be very difficult to get back on track. How do you apply for jobs, without an address/telephone number where you could be reached?

But TOC had published several articles on this before, and hence I shall not dwell too much on the same case.

Recently the appalling situation has come closer to home. A friend is in immediate danger of becoming homeless due to her divorce. I could not believe it at first. She has custody of her children, so they do form a family nucleus, and they are still paying their mortgage, so I could not understand why HDB is ordering them to sell the flat. I called up HDB to seek clarification. HDB explained that she and her ex-husband co-own the flat, but due to the divorce, HDB cannot allow them to continue to co-own it. Hence, either the husband or the wife must buy over the share from the other party. But unfortunately, neither one of them had the money to buy over the flat and refund the other party's CPF. Hence it must be sold. I then went on to ask why they cannot be allowed to continue to co-own the flat since both parties were happy with that arrangement. The officer explained that it would be unfair for the ex-husband who might want to apply for another flat. While this is perfectly understandable if the ex really wanted to apply for another flat, but in this particular case, he wanted to continue with the co-ownership so that his children would have a home. So I discover that it is actually with the good intention of protecting the rights of the husband that the HDB is now going to force his ex-wife and children into homelessness. Isn't that just lovely? A rule meant to protect does the exact opposite, and yet no amount of persuasion / appeal (seen MP and all that) can effect any change in decision.

She does not qualify for HDB rental flat but can't afford to buy a flat on her own, or to rent a flat at market rate (which I discover to my horror is getting close to $2k for a 3 room flat!). Her son, would you believe it, is serving full time NS now, but has already secured a job with a GLC. When he starts work in 2 years time, he and his mom will be able to buy a flat together. So, please sir, can we just delay this until the son finishes serving his NS ? No can do!

So it looks like a new homeless case will be created. This could have been avoided if some flexibility could be exercised / built into the rules. And it seems hers is not an isolated case. How did we come to this? 8% of HDB households are behind in their mortgage payments. If we continue to deny the existence of homelessness, it will only get worse, contributed by people who are unaware that their actions are agravating the situation. A simple acknowledgement of the problem could pave the way for plans to be hatched, actions to be taken.

As for my friend, she plans to send her sons to a relative, while she goes to Malaysia to live with another relative, until her son finishes NS. But she is very sad at having to leave her sons, so we are going to try and help her out, to chip in with rent so that she can stay in Singapore.But she says it is very "pai seh" and she has not yet agreed to accept our help. But we are still trying.

15 comments:

  1. yes, i saw this thing coming..when a local singaporean born & breed say it cannot afford no more so called.. HDB affordable home.. it's a cycle of life but not to HDB.. they care less about the whole issue.

    If they care, it would not come to this stage and will never be. i pray and hope someday the authoriry have a heart about the local not just looking at us as a digit & cents.

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  2. "But she says it is very "pai seh" and she has not yet agreed to accept our help."

    While her dignity may remain intact for now, it seems quite self-destructive to reject help from the only people willing to provide it, since the bureaucracy isn't interested. Isn't it more pai seh to split up a family?

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  3. Its not the first time that policies meant to help the people have hurt them instead.

    These people fall into the 'cracks' simply because times are changing, but the law is not being updated fast enough and flexibility is strangely not being exercised for the simple excuse- "If I give it to you, other people will want the same thing", even if its a valid reason.

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  4. Good of u to highlight the plights of the homeless and the heartless policies inflicting hardhips on the people. Very generous and kind of u to offer your help.
    The PAP government is heartless. Singaporeans deserve better.
    I hope u make it to Parliament.

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  5. As long as you don't blame foreigners for it. Everything seems to be the foreigners' fault, somehow...

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  6. the root of the problems is not foreigners per se, it is the govt shallow policies that resulted in this. if the flood gate is not opened, the foreigners will not be present for us to blame. these high powered, highly paid ministers ought to get the boots.

    btw, why not post photos and video interviews, let the common people hear the horses speak. Mah Bow Tan can dedicate 2 blocks of flats for these foreign workers in such a short short time but let the true blue singaporeans wait 20 plus months for a rental flat.

    How more shameless can this bastard be when he still claim he want the best for singaporeans. Poooi.....!

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  7. I wrote an article on homelessness in United States a few years ago - for my doctoral seminar in Sociology 2. This is a difficult problem to solve, especially since it takes a fairly long cycle and a series of bad decisions before people end up as homeless. Furthermore, there are multiple pathways to homelessness and it can be difficult to generalize.

    And often, it is within this context of "free choices" that right-leaning folks claim that people chose to be homeless by choice. In this case, if husband and wife had void their divorce, they would not be kicked out.

    Flexibility in applying the rules would have resolved the problem. But remember, we are not used to doing that, particularly when dealing with poor/powerless/unemployed people.

    Based on the sociological literature that I read, the same thing happen in USA too. Abuses of the system, when committed by a poor person somehow get framed differently in the media. Abuses by rich or white collar people are more sophistiacted and get framed differently.

    In USA, resources that were poured into organizationas for helping the homeless and tax credits given to corporations for donating food/clothes/etc had not resolved the problems.

    Many not-for-profit, homeless shelters are reimbursed by govt agencies and operators end up trying to make money. Some of these operators are social workers who were passionate about helping the poor when they were younger.

    Many corporations donated expired items and claim full prices in their tax credit. Moreover, these items were not necessarily what the homeless people need. However, food banks had to take them because these corporations also donate cash and other resources.

    Over time, stories of homeless people become "commodities" that are traded for resources - homelessness has become an industry in USA. That is the thesis of my paper.

    Applying to your situation, I think it is far better to advocate for flexibility in managing bureacratic laws than to propose a policies, rules and anything that could potentially be counter-productive in a right-leaning environment.

    In particular, civil servants who were part of the problems are going to be part of the solution. They need to apply their conscience to flexibly resolve the problems, without this "flexibility ethos" overspilling to the regulation of business - be very careful about the generalization and thus consequent rhetorical abuse of the term "flexibility".

    How fairness is framed is key because it seems to be a major justification principle in the institutionalized world that civil servants operate in. As an example, recall the HDB officer's appeal about fairness to the husband.

    Enough said about sociology!

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  8. we need to vote for CHANGE! BIG CHANGE!!! Govt policies does not benefit many people, like lower-income, middle income, and worst especially singles groups, like single orphan, unmarried singles, single parent blar blar...This group are the most hard hit when economic tsunami hits!!! I really wonder what all these multi-million dollar ministers is doing up there???

    I am wondering, is this still my country that i used to feel so proud with??? I am really thinking of migrating liao....to a better governance countries and benefits for their people..

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  9. HDB is a very flexible organisation. Putting the homeless issue aside, your friend's issue can be resolved if she went ahead to push HDB hard enough.

    The Board's upper management is actually pretty lax and understanding, and its the guys on the ground who are screwed up. I've done this several times on my own and family's behalf so it really depends on how much you want to fight for it.

    Look to a MP for help (if they are compassionate enough), and if not, go to AMK and see LSL during his meet the people session. Get your friends to do a tears on demand if its possible and things will happen.

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  10. Nah,

    I doubt so. If its really so lax, there won't be so many homeless in the rank already. People would have already receive the help long long time ago.. Maybe u are juz lucky and luck also... So don't make comparion.

    ReplyDelete
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    ReplyDelete
  12. Dear Anonymous @ February 4, 2010 9:03 AM

    You are absolutely right man, but this is only applicable to their office in Dreamland. Only in our dream then it will happen.

    Wake up!

    ReplyDelete
  13. What about taking on HDB with a court action? Although this is HDB regulation, it is a subsidiary legistration which is not passed by the Parliament. I can see our citizen constitutional rights being violated here. Let the court decide the irrationality of the HDB rulings. That would also buy enough time for the son to complete his NS. I am sure if a fund to challenge HDB is organised, many people would support and test the authority. There may be lawyers who would take up such cases pro-bono. People in Singapore must learn to organise themselves to fight for their rights and not take the helpless approach to challenges.

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  14. From a businessman point of view, longer term data is more reliable than shorter term data. The mean and median of such statistics are more independent of economic cycles. Therefore Minister Mah’s chart from 1999 to last year would be more reliable compared to Hazel’s chart from 2000, 2001 or 2006 to last year.

    I think the government has heard and value feedback of HDB prices from the ground. The government has increased BTO projects and legislated rules to prevent speculations in response to these feedback.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Hi, I am holding Pink IC too.. but i married to a Malaysian work permit chinese man... I think I will also be moving to malaysia after I give birth...

    ReplyDelete