Male rough sleeper resting on a bench in Singapore
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GET TO KNOW HOMELESSNESS

We don’t look that different after all

A series by New Hope Community Services | Published: 11 Mar 2022

Not many people know that there are homeless people in Singapore. Even fewer know about the causes that pushes these people into homelessness and the kinds of help that we can provide for them. In this series, come explore the realities of the homeless community in Singapore — and perhaps you will find that we are not too dissimilar from each other after all.

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Belongings of a rough sleeper in Singapore

What is Homelessness?

While there is no official definition of homelessness in Singapore, a 2019 study conducted by the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy defines homelessness as living in inadequate housing situations (Ng, 2019).

 
A rough sleeper sleeps atop a table at an empty coffeeshop in Singapore

Living in adequate housing means living with security, peace and
dignity
(UN-Habitat, 2009). Factors include security of tenure (protection against force evictions, harassment), habitability (provides physical safety and sufficient space), accessibility (meets the specific needs of the disadvantaged), and affordability
(cost does not prevent enjoyment of other human rights).

A rough sleeper finds some respite in a secluded corner of a building in Singapore

Homelessness is more than just not having a roof over one’s head.

Ng (2019) identifies three broad forms of homelessness:

1.

Primary homelessness, where people do not have accommodation and have to rough sleep; 

2.

Secondary homelessness, which sees one living in temporary housing or moving frequently; and 

3.

​Tertiary homelessness, when living conditions are poor or there is imminent threat of losing one’s home.

A rough sleeper chose this spot at the end of a corridor to rest for the night in Singapore

Without access to adequate housing, “homelessness affects physical and mental wellness, reduce economic opportunities, disrupt social relationships, and weaken one’s sense of identity and dignity”
(Ng, 2019, p. 4).

Background Photos: Rough Sleepers in various locations across Singapore (Photos by New Hope Community Services)

What does Homelessness look like in Singapore?

Wearing a t-shirt with long pants, he’s described as well-groomed. Her hair is a little messy and she seems tired, but she’s dressed similarly in t-shirt and shorts. Many are clothed in typical Singaporean fashion: football jersey and Bermuda shorts, belt and shoes, dark blue track pants, slippers. 

Upon first glance, these individuals may appear to be your average Singaporean. Until you notice them setting up a makeshift cardboard bed in a well-ventilated corner near the neighbourhood playground, or quietly vanishing into the shadows cast by a staircase. 

 

The homeless live silently among us. Without taking a proper look, they’ll continue to slip by us unseen.

A male rough sleeper on a bench under a HDB Void Deck, Singapore

Homelessness exists in Singapore.

Rough sleeping is the most visible form of homelessness in Singapore. It describes the act of sleeping in a public space and the homeless who do so are referred to as rough sleepers. While rough sleeping is a characteristic of homelessness, not all homeless rough sleep. Some choose to seek temporary shelter in places such as hostels or with a friend.

In 2019, the first ever study to measure the scale of homelessness in Singapore unearthed around 1,000 rough sleepers in Singapore over two street counts. Homeless people were found across our island, with a majority located in the city area (Ng, 2019). 

A rough sleeper takes shelter at a secluded staircase, Singapore

These homeless who spend their nights in public spaces may be able to pass themselves off as regular citizens having a late night out based on appearance alone. Their chosen sleeping quarters vary widely; some make use of benches under bright street lamps, while others choose dim corners well-concealed from the public eye. Sometimes it’s quiet with the occasional vehicle trundling past. Or it could be noisy, with groups of people socialising deep into the night. The majority carry no belongings with them. 

 

Homelessness is complex. The absence of a place to stay may perhaps be the most obvious aspect, but it’s hard to pin down a universal definition of homelessness or how a homeless person looks. 

A rough sleeper uses his phone, Singapore

There’s still much that we don’t know or understand about the issue of homelessness in Singapore. From their appearance to how they go about their days and nights, each rough sleeper carries with them a unique story that has led to their current circumstances. 

 

For the many of us who retire each night to the warmth of loved ones and a cosy bed, it can be hard to relate to the plight of rough sleepers. As we learn more about them, may we not turn away in judgement, but towards them with empathy and open hearts. We’re not that different after all; we might even be more similar than we think.

Read more

To find out more about homelessness, please read the rest of our series:

 

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